House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizens.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to apologize to the hon. member, but I see that the time is appropriate for moving the establishment of the Official Languages Committee.

An agreement has been arrived at by all parties. Some things could have been different today. However, this is the right time to move this motion.

Before doing so, I would like to indicate that the intention is that this committee be responsible for monitoring enforcement of the Official Languages Act. Therefore I move the following motion on which all parties in the House have come to an agreement. I move:

That the Standing Orders be as follows:

  1. By deleting subsection (b) of section (3) of Standing Order 104 and by redesignating subsection (c) of section (3) of Standing Order 104 as subsection (b);

  2. By deleting subsection (b) of section (4) of Standing Order 108 and by redesignating subsection (c) of section (4) of Standing Order 108 as subsection (b);

  3. By inserting immediately after subsection (n) of section (2) of the Standing Order 104, the words “(o) Official Languages (sixteen Members)” and by redesignating subsections (o), (p) and (q) of section (2) of Standing Order 104, respectively, as subsections (p), (q) and (r);

  4. By inserting immediately after subsection (c) of section (3) of Standing Order 108, the following:

(d) Official Languages shall include, among other matters, the review of and report on official languages policies and programs, including Reports of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which shall be deemed permanently referred to the Committee immediately after they are laid upon the Table;

and

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall prepare and report to the House within five sitting days after the adoption of this Order a list of Members to compose the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

To put it plainly, the purpose here is to establish the House Standing Committee on Official Languages, since there is now no joint committee following the actions of the other place.

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just need some clarification here. It seems to me that the government House leader has said that the members of the committee would be appointed within five days. But since the House does not sit next week, what about these five days?

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, according to this provision, they are sitting days. As in the case of all the other committees, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will submit names to be approved by the House together with the report. Then, of course, the committee will be organized as usual at its first sitting.

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent for the hon. government House leader to propose the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

November 7th, 2002 / 5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate. The member for Rimouski-Neigette-et-la Mitis still has ten minutes.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was about to explain a situation for which I would like to find a solution. I spoke with my colleague about this case, but I am going to come back to it.

Here is the situation: several years ago, when he was very young, a constituent of mine set out to see the world. He ended up in Australia and, one fine day, he applied for Australian citizenship. An exceptional series of circumstances rekindled his desire to return to Canada.

On September 11, 2001, I was in Australia with a group of parliamentarians for the Commonwealth conference. As we were delayed for a couple of days, we asked someone at the hotel what was the best restaurant in town. When he heard people speaking French with a Quebec accent, a young waiter stopped near us and asked if we were from Quebec. He introduced himself and said he used to live in Rimouski.

He wanted to come back to Quebec and apply for a Canadian passport, but he learned that he was no longer a Canadian citizen. When he had applied for Australian citizenship several years ago, Canada did not allow its citizens to have dual nationality. Therefore, unbeknownst to him, he had been stripped of his nationality. He is no longer a Canadian citizen. If he wants to come back to Canada as a Canadian citizen and again have a Canadian passport, he must apply to immigrate to his own country.

Frankly, in my opinion, this legislation makes no sense. His father lives in Rimouski, his brothers and sisters live in Rimouski. He was born in the hospital in Rimouski. He is Canadian in origin and he is now being denied the right to have restored to him, through some sort of accommodation, the nationality of which he was stripped without his knowledge. How can an 18 year old roaming the world in 1975 be expected to have the required means of communication? We did not have the means of communication then that we have today. The fact that this happened without his knowledge seems quite normal to me; we cannot blame him for being ignorant of the law.

When a civil servant tells me: “Ms. Tremblay, ignorance of the law is no excuse”, that makes me think of the great sociologist, Jon E. Kolberg, who said there were eight levels of social development. When someone gives me this sort of answer, it corresponds perfectly to stage two, which is just a step above stage one. It is law and order. It is like those people who have been waiting for ten minutes for the red light to change, but who have not realized that the lights are not working and will not cross on the red light because that is against the law.

When I find myself up against someone who interprets the law so narrowly, I tell myself that it is really sad to think that in this country, there is someone who was born in Canada, who lived in Canada for the first 18 years of his life, but who, 30 years later, as he is approaching the age of 50, cannot come back to his own country. He must immigrate to his own country and go through the whole process.

He was in Canada and he was told “No, if you want to become a Canadian citizen, you have to leave Canada and go to another country. You must go to an embassy and meet someone to become a citizen, to regain your Canadian citizenship”. I think this is wrong. I hope the minister will listen to the arguments made by my colleague, and I intend to ask him to do something about this case.

I am quite sure that several young people, between 1947 and 1977, since that dates back to the time when the act was amended in 1977, were not informed individually of what would happen if they applied for another citizenship. Moreover, today it is possible to be a Canadian citizen and have dual citizenship. I really hope we will be able to do something to improve the situation.

Let us look at clauses 16 and 17 of Bill C-18. My colleague for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie already mentioned that even if we, in the Bloc Quebecois, agree with the underlying principle of Bill C-18, we are quite concerned about the controversy that might arise if the bill is passed with clauses 16 and 17 unchanged. Clause 17 deals with definitions. Clause 16 lists the various ways one may lose one's citizenship. In my view it is open to abuse on the part of a government or a minister.

Again, when we recall what was said about Osvaldo Nunez, we think “Let us not be paranoid”. However, we believe there might be a risk and a danger that a government might put its words into action and deprive of his new citizenship a citizen who, after swearing allegiance to Canada, might decide to openly work, as Mr. Nunez did with us, to build a country he would find more interesting for himself and for his children than the one he immigrated to in the first place.

This is a problem for us. Some very clear explanations will have to be given to us for our concerns to be alleviated. We feel that this could cause real problems for citizens who might live in constant fear or decide to go underground in order not to be labelled as a member of a given party. It would not necessarily have to be a sovereignist party, simply a party that the government of the time would not like.

We look at what is going on today throughout the world. People thought that the war of 1914-18 had taught the world a lesson. The war of 1939-45 showed there was still cause for concern. Now, when we thought the lesson had finally got through, we see that the 21st century is not very reassuring, with the continuing conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and Israel. It is all very well for the United Nations to pass resolution after resolution to try to calm down the situation and get people to live in more peace and harmony, but we can see that this does not actually change much. People are still ready, for one reason or another, to fire on each other. To have a clause as permissive as this one in a bill can be a source of concern.

Citizenship is the most important thing to an individual living in a given country. Political citizenship and public citizenship are very important. When we think that citizenship can be revoked, however, that is problematic.

There are reasons for revoking citizenship, but when we read between the lines, some of these reasons may be extremely dangerous and make us think that it does not bode well.

Personally, I think that the government also made a cosmetic amendment in deciding that immigration judges would no longer be referred to as judges but as commissioners. I tried to look up definitions in dictionaries and would personally have preferred to continue talking about citizenship judges.

Changing citizenship judge for citizenship commissioner appeared to me as a cosmetic change at first, but on closer reflection, a commissioner is much less important than a judge; commissioners cannot think as freely and are less independent, and I would fear greatly that they would have to play some kind of propaganda role to keep their jobs.

We can ask the question because it is written somewhere at the beginning if this is a bill to promote citizenship. The commissioner would then have to promote citizenship. Frankly, I am afraid the commissioner would be in a perilous situation.

In closing, this is a very important bill, and I hope the government will show flexibility in listening to the wish list of opposition parties and making the necessary changes.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Small Communities
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the recent census taken in 2001 confirms the significant momentum of population towards cities in Canada and given the negative impact this trend will have on smaller and rural communities, the government should take urgent steps to reverse this dangerous trend, namely: (a) changing immigration laws in our country; and (b) implementing a real economic development program for the provinces which are experiencing a real decline in population.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to thank the seconder of my motion, the hon. member for Dauphin--Swan River, and I know everyone will join me in saying hello to my wife Rosemary who is watching this debate and hanging on every word.

I moved the motion because I became alarmed when I saw the recent 2001 census, which indicated so much movement of our Canadian population to urban areas, specifically to four cities: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Even within provinces there is a very dangerous and major trend toward living in urban areas, resulting in a decline in rural areas.

Many of us in the House represent rural areas and have experienced a decline in our population. In my view, this decline will make it impossible for smaller urban areas, smaller towns, smaller villages and smaller municipalities to maintain their infrastructure, their health care, their education and their highways. As for the urban centres that are increasing in growth, this movement of population will put a major burden on their infrastructure as well. This will put a burden on their health care systems and their educational systems and it will cause social problems that they are not prepared to meet. So even the urban areas that are getting the benefit of the increase in population will pay a price for this dangerous trend.

I want to refer to some of the actual numbers that I think will change the face of our country more than anything we deal with, more than even the Kyoto accord or the war on terrorism. This movement of population within the country is going to have a bigger impact than anything we ever have to deal with. I say that because in my own riding we have suffered a population decline in the county of Cumberland and in my own riding of Cumberland--Colchester. I checked the statistics a minute ago. The seconder of my motion, the member for Dauphin--Swan River, also suffered a decline in his riding. My colleague from Gander--Grand Falls has suffered a decline in population in his riding of 9.8%, an almost 10% decline from 1996 to 2001.

The situation is much worse than the numbers show because the decline involves mostly our young people. Our young people are going where the opportunities are. This is leaving a tremendous vacuum in regard to people starting new businesses, people buying houses and people taking over properties and maintaining our communities, as well as our volunteers. They are just not going to be there. As our older generation moves along, there will be no younger generation available to pick up the slack in our charitable organizations and community work. All these communities will suffer. In the end, the urban communities, which probably think this is a good thing in some ways, will end up with larger transition or transfer payments if smaller communities cannot deal with the problem.

I would like to home in on a couple of provinces from the Statistics Canada census. In Newfoundland, every single federal riding suffered a decline in population. It is hard to imagine that: Every single riding in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador suffered a decline. In my province of Nova Scotia, seven ridings suffered a decline while only four had an increase. Those four ridings are closely associated with Halifax, the capital of our province. This decline in population will make it difficult to maintain the tax base, to maintain health care and to maintain education. There will be a smaller tax base.

Again, it is the people who are leaving now who would have increased the tax base, and not only by numbers. These are the people who would have built the businesses, built the economy and created the growth and wealth in our communities. We are losing them and the government has not recognized this fact. It has not even acknowledged this. It has not come up with a specific set of programs to deal with this issue.

Moving on to the province of New Brunswick, it had a decline in seven of its ridings. Only three ridings came out ahead. In Quebec, 27 ridings suffered a decline in population. Even Ontario saw declines. Many of the ridings in northern Ontario suffered a decline, so we can see that it is not only the provinces in Atlantic Canada that are suffering. The province of Manitoba had seven ridings with a decline in population. It did have seven that came out ahead. Saskatchewan was even worse, with 10 ridings suffering a decline in population and only four coming out ahead. Alberta is a completely different story. It had an overall population increase of 10.3%.

This is a very serious problem and it is not going to resolve itself. It will be resolved only if we take action. That is why I was moved to bring forth the motion today. My riding is a rural riding, like many ridings represented here today, and I believe that we must move quickly to protect these ridings.

There are two issues that I have identified in the motion. One is an immigration policy that will help direct immigrants to the rural areas rather than just the concentrated urban centres, which is what happens now.

The other issue I have raised is that of having an economic development program that is really focused on economic development. My observation is that the economic development programs we have across the country have lost their focus. They have lost their vision. They have lost their direction to really home in on real hard economic development. I believe they have lost their direction. They are involved with so many other issues, with park development, for example, and with many aspects other than economic development. These are important issues and they have to be dealt with, and while the economic development programs play an important role in regard to these issues, with the programs focusing on some of these other areas they have lost their direction or their goal of addressing economic development issues.

Let us consider the fact that 6 out of 13 provinces and territories have declined in population. That is how bad it is. Half of our country's provinces and territories have lost population. It is quite a scary number. Newfoundland alone lost 7% of the population. It will make it impossible for the provinces and territories to maintain their quality of life, their infrastructure and the standards they have now. Let me point out that the situation is not one that may happen or one that is a possibility: It is happening right now. Newfoundland is the worst case, with its loss of 7% of the population.

If we were operating a business with our market declining by 7%, it would be really difficult to survive and maintain our business. We would have to increase our market share dramatically just to offset the decline in market.

The provinces cannot do that. When the people leave, they are gone. There is no option. The provinces cannot increase their market share. They cannot increase tax revenue from any other source. They cannot replace it. It is just gone. This will put a tremendous stress burden on the provinces that are suffering a decline, and 98 out of 301 ridings, or 32%, have had a decline in population. The prospects due to the results of this decline are truly frightening: The infrastructure will just not be maintained.

How do we address this? We have some ideas. We are not the only ones who have ideas on this issue. I really want to raise public awareness of the problem. I want to raise awareness on the government side, too, so that it will recognize that this problem must be dealt with.

The first possible solution I want to talk about is an immigration policy that will address some of these needs. Since I proposed this motion many months ago, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has come up with some unique ideas. He has acknowledged that there is a problem. I am glad he has acknowledged it. He has come up with some ideas on how to encourage, or even more than encourage, immigrants who come to Canada to go to the rural areas.

I went to the minister with a pilot project proposal that actually came about as a result of an effort in my riding in the town of Truro, a very progressive and positive community. Truro wanted to bring five Korean families to Truro, five families at once. There is very little immigration as such to Truro, but an organization wanted to sponsor five Korean families to come to the town and make their home there.

The immigration rules would not allow them to come together. They had to come one at a time. Due to that rule, the first family would not take the chance and move to Truro and be the first ones there, the first ones and probably the only ones to speak the Korean language and share their culture, religion, language and their way of life. They would not come. That family went to Toronto instead. Then the second family went to Toronto when it was approved, and then the third one and so on.

Because the families could not come as a group to Truro, none of them would be the first to establish in a new area. This brought to our attention a situation in the immigration rules which discourages people from going to the rural areas. It results in people going to where there is already a community of their own nationality when they come to Canada.

The town of Truro proposed to the minister of immigration that he establish a pilot project to bring to Truro several families from another land. We do not know where they will be from yet, but we proposed that he consider bringing families to the town of Truro. The minister has agreed to at least consider this, and in fact I think more than consider it, because there is a tremendous amount of support for this in Truro. The mayor of the town of Truro, Bill Mills, the mayor of the municipality of Colchester, Mike Smith, several church organizations, social organizations, economic development groups, potential employers and just interested people and groups have come together to say that they want to try this. They want to try bringing families to Truro in this pilot project.

There has been a tremendous amount of support for this. The minister will come to Truro in the next month or so and meet with this organization of organizations to see if we can come up with a formula that ensures that the immigrants who come to Truro feel welcome. It is a very positive community that looks forward and is innovative and has a positive approach to everything it does. Hopefully we will be able to put together a package which will ensure that the families that come to Truro will feel welcome and hopefully it will be very successful in encouraging immigrants to come to rural Canada.

I believe it would be a lot better than trying to force them or make them feel an obligation to stay for a certain period of time or whatever. If we can make them want to stay and make them feel comfortable, I think the chances of success are much better. I compliment the minister on allowing us to explore this pilot project. We are all very excited about it. Hopefully it will come together very quickly.

The second issue that I feel has to be addressed is economic development. This has been a very controversial subject for a long time. There have been several tries at it. ACOA was established to replace an organization that operated out of Ottawa. ACOA was set up to operate from Atlantic Canada. It is like FedNor and Western Economic Diversification and all the economic development programs that were established to put the decision making in the areas where the services need to be applied. However, in my view they seem to have morphed into something that they were never intended to be. They have lost their distinct focus on economic development. Somehow we have to come back to a very focused and driven economic development program to address these issues.

Those are two of the many components that I think should go into a strategy to at least slow down this incredible movement to urban Canada from rural Canada, because again, everybody is going to pay a price.

Urban Canada will pay a price and there will be a tremendous overburden on its infrastructure. Rural Canada will pay a price. We will not be able to survive and maintain our standard of living, health care, education, even highways, all the things we have come to enjoy. We will not be able to depend on such services as social services and so forth because the tax base will simply decline. The tax income will not be there for the municipalities and provinces. Even the federal tax base will decline in the rural areas.

I feel it is very important. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing it and realizing that it is an urgent problem. Many things with which we deal are problems that may happen. However this is a problem right now. From 1996 to 2001, the population in 6 of 13 provinces and territories decreased. Again this is not a potential problem. It is real and it is urgent. It will change the face of our country more than anything we deal with on a day to day basis.

I am thankful for the chance to raise this issue. Hopefully this will raise public awareness of the problem. Hopefully I have created an interest for the government side and other opposition parties to recognize that perhaps this is a problem and that we had better look at it. If we do not change this almost migration of population within our country, down the road it will be very expensive to fix.

Small Communities
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for his motion. Whenever we are concerned about rural Canada, a motion is always appropriate and always pertinent. I am sure his wife Rosemary is most pleased with his fine comments today.

I would like to first acknowledge that the census reports show that we are experiencing a shift in our population. It is not a simple thing to analyze because our country is made up of many different regions with unique characteristics and with a unique set of large and small communities. It is not just cities and the rest of Canada.

When we leave the boundaries of our major urban centres, we do not find a homogeneous rural area from that boundary and beyond. It is very different when we look at what is happening around our cities, what is happening further out in what we call the heartland areas and what is happening beyond that, in what we might refer to as our remote areas, such as the area that I come from in northern Ontario and beyond into the Northwest Territories and so forth.

I would like to just take a moment to say that we have a minister who is responsible for rural development in Canada. The minister has worked very hard to raise the profile with our urban neighbours. We need a strong rural Canada to have a strong country. I would like to emphasize that it is not a matter of urban versus rural. It never has been and never should be. It is a partnership. Each recognizes in the other that a healthy urban society is good for the country and a healthy rural society is good for the country.

I would like to just comment briefly on immigration. I have discussed with some of my mayors and reeves the notion of attracting immigrants from other parts of the world to our rural areas. For instance, the member for Cumberland—Colchester would like to see immigrants come to his neighbourhood.

He mentioned a pilot project in Truro. I was most intrigued about that, and I hope he will keep the House apprised of those developments. I am encouraged, and I am not surprised, that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is supporting that initiative to see if there are new ways and some different thinking that can be brought to the challenge of attracting immigrants to our non-metropolitan areas. I appreciate that he has raised the idea that Truro is trying to attract a group of maybe five families from one area of one country. It did not work out regarding the five families in Korea but that it is an excellent idea. That and many other ideas need to be tried.

I think he will find great support for good, new ideas that might help bring immigrants to the parts of the country that are not used to having immigrants come in large numbers. Our population decline is a complex thing but we need to have our share of new Canadians who will choose to make Canada their home. They invariably bring good skills and great economic wealth to the nation.

I would rather focus the rest of my time on the economic development side of things. In northern Ontario, in the area I represent, economic development goes right down to the grassroots. I noticed in the member's motion, and it may have been inadvertent, that it mentions that the federal government should have economic development strategies and programs for the provinces. I do not think he meant that we should tell the provinces what to do. By way of clarification, I think he really means that the federal government should show, by leadership and by example, its interest in economic development in the different regions of the country.

I can tell member that the government, while always willing to try new ideas, has already put in place numerous excellent measures to help local communities, where the ideas should come from, to develop good ideas. I am sure the member does not mean to suggest that bureaucrats or politicians in Ottawa or Toronto should tell local communities what is best for them.

In the case of northern Ontario, FedNor, and ACOA in his area in the Atlantic provinces, try to promote local partnerships to allow good local ideas to be supported in the hopes that the best ideas will grow and become those economic generators that we need.

I would just point out the many things that the government has already done. The Canadian rural partnership program, with a $55 million investment, has done a lot to promote dialogue, to promote the information sharing and to promote the sharing of best practices at the local levels in rural Canada.

Under the telecommunications initiative, the government has committed to ensuring that broadband telecommunication is available to all of our communities by 2005 so that every community will have a door to the world when it comes to communications and access to the best of medicine and education. It will give our local businesses in those communities a chance to share in the worldwide marketplace.

The government not only continues to support our regional economic development agencies, but in many cases has improved that support and has allowed those agencies to be more flexible and more able to adapt to regional realities. In particular, I know in my area, and I would say in all areas in the country, our local Community Futures Development Corporations, our CFDCs, have done a marvellous job in ensuring that local ideas are supported.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers who make up the boards of these CFDCs. They provide the kinds of insights at the local level that we could never find from far away places. We appreciate that, and the federal government's support through the regional agencies for those local programs which is absolutely essential.

Under the Canada provincial-territorial infrastructure program, the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of improving infrastructure, not just in our urban centres but across the country, reaching out to the smallest of our villages and hamlets. In northern Ontario there are hundreds of communities. In my own area there are 40 to 60 smaller communities. Without the federal government becoming involved, they would never hope to improve their local infrastructures which are needed to create and foster a local environment of economic health and hope. We hope that in the future our young people will want to come home after they have received their college or university educations or after they have spent some years working somewhere else. We hope they will feel they can go home to their rural areas, their rural homes and build something for the benefit of all.

I could go on listing the many things that the government has done and continues to do. I will not even mention the initiatives to support renewable energies under the tax regime. Many of these initiatives emanate from rural Canada.

I want to underline that rural Canada is not a homogeneous set of villages dotting the country as soon as we leave the boundaries of a city. It is made up of generally three categories of communities.

First are those areas that are adjacent to metropolitan areas and that benefit from a spillover effect which is good for them.

Second are those communities that are in the heartland. The populations in this area are more or less stable. They suffer the challenges of competing, like all the communities do, with larger cities.

We really must recognize that they too differ from the third category, our more remote regions like northern Ontario, the far north of Canada, the northern areas of our prairie provinces and of Labrador and northern Quebec. These areas are so far from our metropolitan centres that the distance really counts for a lot when it comes to economic development.

I will conclude by thanking the member for Cumberland—Colchester for putting forward the motion. He does us all a service by making sure that this place recognizes the importance of rural Canada to the nation. That is indeed where this country started from. If we lose sight of the importance of rural Canada we will in fact lose sight of what it is to be a nation.

I am sure that rural Canada will continue to be strong and will carry this country into the future forever.

Small Communities
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on the motion by the hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester. I understand Rosemary Casey may be watching the proceedings this evening.

The motion before us states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the recent census taken in 2001 confirms the significant momentum of population toward cities in Canada and given the negative impact this trend will have on smaller and rural communities, the government should take urgent steps to reverse this dangerous trend, namely: (a) changing immigration laws in our country; and (b) implementing a real economic development program for the provinces which are experiencing a real decline in population.

Let me say at the outset that I, and I suspect the vast majority of my colleagues in the official opposition, share the concern and the general sentiment that clearly lies behind the motion.

I, like many members of the House, grew up principally in a small rural community. For myself that was a little place called Wilcox, Saskatchewan, which has a population of just over 200 people. Growing up in a small community like that I have a strong affection for those who, in many ways, make economic sacrifices in order to live a simpler, slower and more communal life that is found in so many of our rural communities.

I, like many, feel a great sadness when I see rural communities on the Prairies, in outport communities in Atlantic Canada or in smaller communities throughout central Canada continue to decline in population as young people move away to seek economic opportunities in the cities and as economic opportunities decline in these smaller communities themselves.

It is sad to go back and see, what were once vibrant towns, becoming in some cases ghost towns; to see the mighty towers of the Prairies, those great old wooden grain elevators, coming down one by one; to see the stores and local services closed; and to see aging communities losing their hospitals, their schools and losing the capacity to provide essential social services to the communities.

I know this problem exists, not just in the rural Prairies but right across the country, a country which used to be in its history, essentially a rural nation. In the 1860s, at the time of Confederation, the population of Canada consisted of roughly 80% rural people and 20% urban people. Today, 130-some years later, we find that those figures have reversed to the point where roughly 20% of Canadians live outside of cities, and the number continues to decline.

The concern over this is not just simply a matter of nostalgia. Yes, nostalgia for many of us who have a history in rural Canada does play a role in it, but I believe that small rural communities are the moral and cultural foundation of a society insofar as they are communities where people are close to the land and where the virtues which make a society great are most easily cultivated; the basic ideas of strong, voluntary institutions of what Edmund Burke called those little platoons of civic virtue, like the family, like church and religious institutions, like real vibrant community organizations where the vast majority of the people in a community will be involved.

These institutions, which are found to have great strength and vigour in rural communities, are central to a nation's character. We often find that a hugely disproportionate number of successful people in all endeavours have come from rural communities because they learned a degree of personal responsibility, of work ethic and a sense of community that is really extraordinary. For that reason I agree with the general concern expressed by the motion.

However I am not sure that the general remedies proposed here are workable or effective. For instance, the member suggests that we change immigration laws to reverse the trend. I agree with the objective of increasing immigration to rural communities. I am not sure what government can do in that direction given the mobility rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I believe it is a problem when well over 95% of new immigrants who arrive in this country go directly to and stay in our largest cities, principally Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, other large cities like my own city of Calgary.

While we do and should welcome new immigrants to those large urban communities, it would be nice if we could find ways to encourage migration back to rural Canada.

The whole development of the country was one of immigration to rural areas, but that was for reasons of economic incentive. People homesteaded in the west. They originally founded the outport fishing communities of Atlantic Canada and the logging and mining communities of central Canada because there was a very real and direct economic benefit for them to do so. That economic benefit increasingly is not there. I do not know how we can create artificial incentives for new people who arrive in this country to go to a place where they may not find employment, where they may not have an infrastructure of family or community support immediately available to them.

I think this is a marvellous objective but I regret to say that I am somewhat skeptical about our ability to actually engineer a redirection of immigration patterns to rural communities.

Although I would be interested to hear of any concrete and workable proposals that have worked in other jurisdictions and that did not violate the mobility rights provisions of the charter, if there are such concrete ideas, and this is more than just a rhetorical exercise, I would be very interested to hear those proposals.

In terms of the suggested remedy of implementing a real economic development program for the provinces that are experiencing decline in population, of course everybody is in favour of economic development in rural Canada and all parts of Canada, but I think some of us can be justifiably skeptical about the efficacy of government when it comes to government driven economic development. Economic development programs of this nature have been tried again and again for the better part of 40 years in economically depressed regions of the country and in rural Canada and they have failed again and again. There have been countless government programs, tens of billions of dollars spent and tens of thousands of bureaucrats hired to administer them, with the objective of promoting economic development in rural Canada. However I do think those programs demonstrated a patina of success in turning around the gradual economic decline of rural Canada.

I think that the best recipe for economic growth in rural Canada is the same as for Canada as a whole; that is to say, for us to become a more productive economy, with greater incentives for people to work, save and invest, which attracts capital and investment, investment which inevitably will go to and benefit many rural communities.

However for us to create yet another program where bureaucrats will hand out grant dollars to people because they might locate businesses in rural communities has been tried and it has failed.

Let us try a new approach. Let us try the approach that has succeeded in many rural communities that I know of, practically speaking, in the west. I think one would find that the smaller towns and rural communities in Alberta have had more success in economic development, and in retaining and growing their population than any other province in Canada because there is a vibrant private sector economy in that province. We do not look to government to create jobs in those communities. We look to the private sector to do so. With a low tax and regulatory regime, and a diversified and productive economy, rural communities are doing reasonably well compared to the rest of the country. I propose that is a good model for economic development in rural Canada.

I close by commending the member for bringing the motion forward.

Small Communities
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the motion by my colleague from Nova Scotia. This motion reads as follows:

--the recent census taken in 2001 confirms the significant momentum of population towards cities in Canada and given the negative impact this trend will have on smaller and rural communities...

It is not the first time I speak about this in the House. In my remarks, I would like to focus on the solutions advocated by my colleague. However, I might have some problems in fully endorsing his proposals.

First, let us talk about rural policy or the regional and rural policy of the federal government. First of all, what policy? This is what I have been wondering about, since the funds invested in this policy absolutely do not meet the expectations of rural Canada.

In Quebec, we already have a rural policy. It is a first step. We are now working toward strengthening regions. Through various organizations, the government is trying to provide the necessary tools and means to enable regions to regain some strength.

What is happening in the maritime provinces? As my colleague was saying, that region is also greatly affected by this exodus of people. It is often young people who leave rural regions. We see this throughout Quebec; the population is getting older and there is no new blood.

My colleague talks about changing the immigration legislation in the country. We know that the Quebec government has been working for a long time to reach a consensus and to make gains to ensure that immigration policies are shared responsibilities. We finally reached an agreement whereby some responsibilities are now under Quebec jurisdiction, while others are under federal jurisdiction.

If the government wants to change immigration legislation in the country, it should make these changes in cooperation with the provinces and, in particular, with Quebec.

A partnership has been established on immigration. A proposal to rectify a situation should not create another injustice. If the government introduces a national, coast to coast policy, and this national policy does not respect the policies that are already in force in the provinces, once again, we will have to deal with some difficult situations.

I say to my colleague that I agree with changes to immigration, but in cooperation with the provinces. If ever these changes are made, I really hope that the federal government will make them in cooperation with the Quebec government.

I would now like to talk about one of the causes of this exodus. The exodus of people from rural regions to cities, particularly young people, is a growing problem. The federal government is largely responsible for this exodus by refusing to loosen employment insurance rules.

In the Maritimes, as in Quebec, Ontario and western Canada, everyone is suffering as a result of the employment insurance legislation. The legislation is very strict, it has no flexibility and it pays no regard to seasonal workers. It does not meet the needs of rural regions. What we do know is that it prevents people from settling in regions or rural areas. Here is an example.

A young person moves to a region and gets a seasonal job. He gets a job in a unionized plant where there are seniority lists. Before being eligible for EI benefits, he must work 910 hours. Think about it, 910 hours.

If there is an economic downturn, or a period where the seasonal work ends, this young person is unable to qualify for EI benefits. What does he do? He turns around and looks for a job, and ends up moving to an urban centre where he will be able to find more permanent employment that allows him to get his 910 hours.

We all know that when a person leaves a region and begins to feel at ease in a large city, that person does not go back to his region. This happens all the time.

In my riding, I often see young people who are attending CEGEP or university, and they do not necessarily come back to the riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable. This situation may also explain why, when a young person leaves his or her region, that person does not necessarily come back to work there. This is truly an unfair situation, a glaring injustice to the new generation.

If we want to revitalize regions and rural communities, it is essential that young people remain there. Then, once we have managed to keep our young people in our ridings, we can go ahead with the proposal put forward by the hon. member from the Maritimes and change immigration laws in our country to repopulate these regions, but always with the agreement of the provinces. This is done in Quebec, with the provincial government.

Personally, I think that, in the immigration sector, we have established a kind of partnership between the provincial and federal governments and we must continue in the same direction, so that the gains made by the Quebec government can be maintained, regardless of the changes made to the Immigration Act.

When we talk about economic development, again it is a rather broad notion. Everybody is involved with economic development, but there does not seen to be a common ground between the provinces and the federal government where they talk to one another and create a true economic program aimed at the regions and rural areas.

When I see the way the federal government believes in the regions and rural areas, and the crumbs it is giving the Secretary of State for Rural Development, I understand why people in the regions are starting to wonder. They are starting to really question how serious the government is with regard to the regions and rural areas.

If the federal government wants to send the clear message that it is ready to support the regions and rural areas, it is all fine and good to philosophize, make fine speeches and have lofty principles, but there has to be a commitment to real action. This means that the Throne from the Speech must contain concrete measures for the regions and rural areas.

When the Minister of Finance makes a budget statement, as he did in Halifax, he must signal that his government believes in the regions and rural areas. But through the years--I have been here since 1997--I have seen no real intent on the part of the current government to send a real message that it will help the regions and rural areas and support the efforts by communities to see to their own needs. Communities were so hard hit by cuts in government programs that they need support and encouragement.

I believe the federal government should take this issue seriously and send a clear message, namely that the minister of Finance or the Prime Minister will commit money and resources to encourage people. This, way people will be able to say that the federal government is doing its job.