House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was community.

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Question No. 141
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec be read the third time and passed.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

May 20th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want first to come back to some issues I had raised in my first speech, in addition to making a few points.

I had insisted on an important issue. We must avoid making allegations. Earlier, in oral question period, I heard my Liberal Party colleague, the member for Gatineau, claim or rather imply that regional development is not important to us.

I will not respond to such allegations, except to say that regional development is extremely important, too much, in fact, for us to engage in partisan politics. I think it is important to work or at least to try to work in harmony and cooperation in order to resolve all the problems in the regions. This is what the Bloc Québécois and I have tried to do in the debates at each stage of Bill C-9.

Earlier, I mentioned some important issues that the Bloc put forward. These issues were important to us, to Quebec and to the regions. We have made progress.

I also mentioned the concept of designated areas, which was struck from the bill. This concept gave the minister the freedom to intervene in one region instead of another. This was struck from the bill. This is fortunate.

One other thing was also struck. In my opinion, it may have been important to the government, but it was much less so to the opposition, for whom it was appalling to say the least. I am talking about the possibility of announcing grants during an election. An election is the time for debating the issues and adopting positions on local, regional and national issues, whereas this party is using it as an opportunity to announce grants.

We are quite pleased that our Conservative colleagues put forward this amendment, which naturally the Bloc Québécois supported.

The Bloc Québécois—which is concerned with equity throughout Quebec—also ensured that the original mission of the agency was put back in the bill. It reads as follows:

The object of the Agency is to promote the long-term economic development of the regions of Quebec by giving special attention to those—

Here is the important part:

—where slow economic growth is prevalent or where opportunities for productive employment are inadequate.

As I said, we went from the designated areas and the free will of the minister, and returned to a concern for equity of all regions truly in need.

We also offered the possibility to this government and to the minister that he have some authority. We would have liked him to participate and support our amendment. It concerns the possibility from the technical point of view—I will not go into detail—of his being able to make transfers directly to the Government of Quebec, of money, or least certain amounts, or agreements involving the regions, in order to participate in some major initiatives. That would not, of course, mean just anything, but would involve major initiatives for certain regions.

For example, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean a consensus emerged from the summit between Quebec and its regions for the creation of a regional venture capital investment fund. This fund is so important that even a major company like Alcan is prepared to inject money into it. The Government of Quebec is even prepared to match, and double, the amount contributed by the community. For example, if there were $10 million in private funding, the Government of Quebec would be prepared to inject $20 million. This is a major initiative.

Once again, on a number of occasions, this government has refused to participate. This is a regional prerogative on which there was consensus from all leaders in the region, regardless of party.

There is one other important reason behind the refusal to support this bill, which has been rejected by both the government and the Quebec federalists. I make that differentiation because, at one point, even western Conservative MPs had accepted this orientation. We wanted the agency and the minister to exercise their authorities in such a way as to respect the priorities of the Government of Quebec for regional development. Why is this so vital? Quite simply because the majority of questions that impact on regional development fall into areas under Quebec jurisdiction. Yes, someone could bring up the Charter, but I am not talking about that.

Municipalities, Quebec's; land use planning, Quebec's; assessment and training, Quebec's; accepting and integrating immigrants, Quebec's; and, natural resources, a huge area, Quebec's. The same is true of hydroelectricity, forests, lumber and land use planning. All of these issues are unavoidable, and the Government of Quebec cannot be ignored. Regional development requires Quebec consensus, because it concerns Quebec and its regions primarily.

I would say as well that the other reasons relate to the establishment of such a substantial organization. There must be no competition so as to avoid any counter-productive duplication. The minister himself said that the aim is complementarity. He is offered a chance to consolidate this complementarity and out of hand he rejects the notion of respecting the priorities of the Government of Quebec. Whatever the government thinks, the witnesses who came to the committee should have been heard. Mr. Jean-Claude Beauchemin, the mayor of Rouyn-Noranda said, “Given the nature of the Agency proposed in Bill C-9, we fear that there may be a strong centralization of this process and a breakdown of the mutual consultation mechanisms ”.

Others have said, “We plan to create a department, but there are no mechanisms for cooperation among federal departments, throughout Canada or between provinces and regions.” And we have also heard people say, “Economic development agencies do not have a board of directors, and therefore they are unable to bring together the stakeholders to discuss the issues in regional initiatives.”

My time is running out, but I would have other comments to make regarding witnesses. In view of this testimony, the problem I have with the government and the minister is that they missed the target when they refused, or failed, to consult the most important people, the people in the regions. They are the ones who, day in and day out since even before I was born, have been working for economic development. They bring focus to these debates and to the regional development approach. This is why we will vote against Bill C-9.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Jonquière—Alma on his speech regarding Bill C-9. He talked about the regional investment fund in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. This regional fund is supported financially by the community, by businesses and by the Quebec government. The region approached the federal government to seek its support, but the answer was no.

My question is this. Does the member believe that it would be important for the federal government to support this regional investment fund and can he tell us what this fund means for the development of a region such as the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. His question is particularly important since he was also affected by various crises, the softwood lumber crisis, the mad cow crisis, as well as difficult regional realities. He is working hard, he is diligent and I commend him for this good work.

When there is a regional consensus as important as the mobilization of a whole community, I think that we cannot remain insensitive. Yet, several ministers have been criticized one after the other, not only by members of the Bloc Québécois, but also by the sector and by journalists over the importance of this issue, and yet, this fund is mobilizing both the social and economic sector, the economic sector, as well as such big businesses as Alcan and the Quebec government.

Thus, all these people consider that a venture capital fund is very important. However, the government is afraid to lose something by putting money into this fund. It might lose its precious visibility in the regions.

I said earlier that we must not politicize the debate about resource regions. We must not politicize regional development for partisanship purposes. We must be forward-looking. Economic models that existed previously are no longer working. What we must do today is review them. This is what I intend to continue to do with the leaders of the region, no matter what the government decides.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity, a little earlier today, to point out to the minister that, as a former municipal elected person, I had to work, on the regional level, with other elected people and representatives of different organizations. We often managed to achieve regional consensus on projects that were considered viable. We had funds from the CRÉ, formerly the CRCD, as well as cooperation from the provincial government.

I want to ask this of the minister. Has he ever witnessed, in his own riding, projects that had received the approval of organizations in the sector and that had already benefited from local and provincial funding, but, when the time came to ask the federal government for funds, were flatly refused?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse who has an impressive background and brings a lot of experience to our caucus.

To answer his question I will say that yes, we often see consensus in the community but the government will give all kind of excuses to justify its refusal to participate. Sometimes, it says it is because of its program constraints, sometimes because it will not get enough visibility or that it will not be the main stakeholder in a project.

When there is consensus and the region says that a project is good, I do not see why the federal government would say that it is bad and that it will not get involved. Who but those who are affected by a problem are in the best position to plan their own development, to nurture that development?

Let us take a conflict like lumber for example. We have been asking for two or three years for a loan guarantee program to really help businesses. We also asked for the payment of legal costs. We proposed a plan to help forest industries because their situation is a tragedy. Two days ago, Tembec announced the closure of four plants. Will the government wait for the sector to be completely destroyed before doing something?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and Minister responsible for the Francophonie

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues in the Bloc should get their act together. Clearly, one of their members asked a question, and his colleague could not give any real answer.

This question was quite simple and relevant. Was there any project in the Saguenay area in which all those concerned were ready to invest and which Canada Economic Development refused? The answer that was not provided and should have been is a resounding no. Not a single investment project that was put forward locally and supported by the Quebec government was rejected by Canada Economic Development. Not a single one.

Maybe these gentlemen should have a little discussion to find out why they are opposing Bill C-9. They do not even agree between themselves.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will avoid talking specifically about too many projects, but I will mention one, the footbridge in Sainte-Monique. The CLD put a proposal forward after doing a comprehensive study of this issue. This project also enjoyed local support, but Canada Economic Development refused to go along.

Out of respect for developers who put projects forward, we will not politicize the issue, but this happens frequently. On the pretext that program standards exist, they go one way or the other. The best example is the regional fund. The whole community in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean contributed to this fund because it is important. But this government refuses the money we need for development.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech of my colleague. It is not the first time I hear that kind of comment. As a matter of fact, I intended to ask a question similar to the one asked by the minister responsible for Bill C-9 because, once again, erroneous answers are being given to Quebeckers. They are being told that there is one bill and that it is the only one that can be referred to. However, it is never said that it is sometimes because the province is not doing anything about this issue.

Now, in terms of regional collaboration, I know that Canada Economic Development has an extraordinary perception of my region, the Outaouais. Things are going very well. By the way, I want to say that CED-Q has been in place far longer than the CLDs and CREs that the Bloc Québécois is supporting and in which it sees a panacea to regional problems.

I would like to ask the member for Jonquière—Alma a question. Beside the fact that, in his own region, stakeholders do not seem ready to oppose Bill C-9 — he seems to be isolated in that regard — does putting so much focus on CREs not concern him, considering that other groups, namely women, are no longer involved in those organizations?

I think that when the Bloc Québécois says that there is community involvement, this is somewhat exaggerated. I believe that CED-Q already has a very good reputation. It works a lot with the community. Maybe it does such good work because it has been doing it for a long time. Therefore, I have a lot of difficulty understanding why the Bloc Québécois always comes back to CREs, and is acting in a way that is detrimental to Quebec.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer my colleague, I will simply ask a question. Why did they not see fit to consult the local population and stakeholders?

Earlier, I was talking about the need to review economic models. We had a good opportunity, but they missed it. About the way of doing things, I will quote a witness who certainly knows how to do things.

They wanted at least to put the CFDC and the CLD in the same physical location so that they would work in a complementary fashion. Every time, it was a categorical no. That was an illogical stand that caused a great deal of difficulty in Quebec. ... We achieved the successes we had in spite of the federal government.

The witness is André Brunet, president of the Abitibi CLD, and this is important.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the debate on third reading of Bill C-9, an act to establish the economic development agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec.

This is a public policy matter of profound significance for communities everywhere. Although the bill deals specifically with community economic development in various regions of the province of Quebec, the concept we are discussing is critically important for the future of many communities across the country.

I would like to take a moment to address the essence of this proposal and the whole meaning of social, economic development or political involvement at the grassroots level because that is what we are talking about.

This is about communities having the means to ensure that community development occurs in ways that are relevant to that community. It is about turning around our priorities as politicians and as members of Parliament. We ought to stop saying how communities must perform. We ought to stop making decisions from on high about what communities need and what is best for people at the local level. We ought to begin by saying that no one knows better about what is in the best interests of a community than the people who work day in and day out building communities and creating cooperative arrangements for improving life in that particular neighbourhood.

I have a very relevant example in terms of my own constituency of Winnipeg North, a community that is a typical, inner city, north end neighbourhood. It is an older neighbourhood with old stock housing and many very significant problems in terms of economic and social development.

We are talking about communities where many people live on a day to day basis trying to make ends meet for their families, communities that are struggling in terms of some external factors that are hard to address. It may be an influx of people from other communities without proper housing and other services available to those individuals. We are talking about all the social determinants that come from economic indicators that are indicative of many social ills and problems that we all have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Economic development is central for every region and every community in every one of our provinces to overcoming great difficulties and ensuring we have a long term strategy for overcoming economic and social inequalities.

There is an old expression we have all heard that if we give a person a fish, they will eat for a day, but if we teach that person to fish, they will be able to provide for themselves and their families forever. One could even take that a little further and say that if one gave those families access to the pond, to the lake or the river where the fish are plentiful, then the future of that community is guaranteed forever. It is about giving communities the resources they need to develop, to grow and to provide for all of the people in that community.

We cannot do that in isolation. We cannot do that from government speaking on high and we cannot do it in terms of dealing with things on a piecemeal, ad hoc, band-aid, pilot project basis, which has been the tendency of the government.

It has not tended to look at communities in terms of holistic needs and in terms of working to find solutions with a community, not for that community, not telling that community how the job must get done.

My experience also comes from a community where in fact there is a very high aboriginal population. These are people who want to gain control over their own lives. They are people who know that they will continue to suffer social injustice and economic inequality until we as politicians are prepared to share power and are prepared to empower people to look after themselves, to care for themselves and to make communities work for one another. That is the essence of this concept and why this bill is so important.

Let me now focus specifically on Bill C-9. It is a bill that has gone through all the stages and has had serious study by the committee.

In that regard I want to acknowledge the work of my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology. She has been very much involved in the work of that committee in developing recommendations and amendments to this legislation to make it better, to make it more effective in terms of dealing with the very objectives at stake here, that is, how to give communities the means by which they can shape their own future.

At the committee stage of the bill, many amendments were proposed and many were passed. I want to indicate for all in this House that the New Democratic Party certainly supports the amendments, recognizes the hard work of the committee and wants to support the bill as amended.

Specifically, the amendments state very clearly that social economy enterprises will be included as eligible organizations. That will help community economic development opportunities in the province of Quebec.

As well, the amendments focus on how this money will be used to promote the Quebec economy. I want to look specifically at those amendments that do just that and speak about why we are so supportive of the amendments and the bill including these amendments. The first of these amendments states that there shall be means to:

(a) promote economic development in the regions of Quebec where low incomes and/or slow economic growth are prevalent, or where opportunities for productive employment are inadequate.

That is fundamental to the task at hand and to the very essence of Canadian economic development.

The second part of the amendment states that through this bill it will be emphasized that “long-term economic development and sustainable employment and income creation” are explicitly stated as fundamental goals. The amendments also include reference to a focus on small and medium sized enterprises and the development of entrepreneurial talent.

All these amendments are important, all establishing very clear boundaries that will help direct how the funding that is available will be used and to whose benefit. Very clearly, these are critical steps in terms of this whole process, integral to the whole legislation we are dealing with.

As recent events in Montreal have shown, it is very important that bureaucrats understand the limits of how funds should be used.

I again want to spend just a moment on the importance of literacy in any social economy program. I am sure that members of the Bloc will agree when I say that Quebec, like Atlantic Canada, has more adults with low literacy skills than the rest of Canada. As we agree to the new status for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, it is very important for us to emphasize that literacy skills are the most important for people who are in transitional and emerging economies.

I want to point out that ABC CANADA is a great organization working to improve adult literacy skills. The following is stated on its website:

Statistics Canada released a report called Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society in 1997. This report confirms that we have a serious literacy problem in Canada. Here are some of the facts:

Literacy skills are like muscles--they are maintained and strengthened through regular use.

The higher an individual's literacy level, the more likely he/she will be employed and have a higher income.

Canadians use their literacy skills more in the workplace than at home.

--'good' jobs are those that provide opportunities to maintain and enhance literacy skills.

Let us stop for a moment and take a look at the third point I mentioned: that Canadians use their literacy skills more in the workplace than at home. It makes sense in that context, then, that any economic program, any community development initiative, needs to consider absolutely the need for lifelong learning, especially when it comes to adult literacy and numeracy training programs.

There is so much one could talk about in the context of the bill. I simply want to indicate our support for the bill as amended and to urge its final passage by the House of Commons.

I want to end by referring to some work prepared by the Canadian CED Network social economy round table consultation. I will refer specifically to the briefing notes the group produced. The document outlining the discussions at the round table consultation lists the main points that CCED Net believes should be common concerns during all consultations regarding the federal social economy initiative.

Emphasizing those three points really says it all in terms of what we are trying to achieve and what can be accomplished by providing the funds that are referenced in the bill and providing the framework for its implementation.

The three points made by CCED Net include, first, “strengthening social capital at the local level”. That means “building the local capacity of communities to systematically address the problems of their economies”. That is a very important point, because without acknowledging the need to increase local capacity so that the community itself can overcome the problems it is facing, we are only putting a band-aid on a problem. We are only allowing social injustices and economic inequalities to continue.

The second point about this approach involves “strengthening human capital at the local level”. This means “increasing the competence of local citizens to get and hold good jobs or build their own businesses, as well as to provide essential local leadership for the development process”.

This kind of investment in human capital cannot be done in isolation of all the parts of that individual. If we do not look at this on a holistic basis, it becomes almost impossible to see results by investing money strictly on the basis of a particular economic project. That means looking at the whole identity of an individual and of a community. That means considering the heritage, the culture, the skills, the particular expertise, and the practices of collaboration and working together: networking; the involvement of unions and businesses; the involvement of synagogues, churches and temples; the involvement of schools and universities; and the involvement of family associations and teacher-parent groups.

All of these various aspects of an individual's life, all integral to the health and well-being of a community, must be included in this concept of strengthening human capital at the local level.

Finally, let us get to the nub of the matter in terms of the wherewithal to do all of this. We have the people who want to do it. We have organizations at the local level with people who want to give their lives to making a difference at the community level, who are prepared to work on a volunteer basis and to work tirelessly doing community work, but they need the financial support of government to make that happen.

The third important point made by CCED Net about a community development or economic development initiative is “strengthening financial capital at the local level”. This means improving “investment resources available for local businesses, for affordable housing, and for alternative financial institutions”.

In this context, it is very important to reference the two budget bills passed by this House of Commons just last night, and in particular to reference the better balanced budget proposed by the NDP in Bill C-48, which in fact flows from this imperative and came from the need to address community needs and to support communities to help themselves. The money we have fought for and worked through with the Liberal government is critical for community economic development, the money for housing, education, retrofitting of homes, public transit and other environmental initiatives. All of these initiatives are critically important for feeding into the notion that the best communities are those that are able to help themselves.

By providing the resources to work with community groups like those I have in Winnipeg, the North End Community Renewal Corporation, Just Housing, Habitat for Humanity, North End Housing and other residents associations like the Point Douglas and William Whyte residents advisory groups, by providing assistance to those organizations and groups that are prepared to take on the challenges of a community that needs to be renewed and strengthened, we surely see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that the goals we all share can be accomplished.

This last point also references the need for every community to have access to financial institutions, and if those financial institutions are not there, to provide the resources to develop alternatives. When a community loses all of its bank branches and has no immediate direct access to financial institutions, then it is through community development and economic development proposals, like those we have been talking about under the auspices of this bill, that we can actually provide and ensure that a community has such access.

It is not easily done and it takes a lot of work, but I can tell members from firsthand experience how possible it actually is.

In the case of Winnipeg North, we have lost all of our bank branches in the last 10 years. In a very large and strategically significant area in Winnipeg, that being the north end, stretching many miles on all sides, there is no bank branch. The community realized that without access to financial services there would be no way to keep attracting new businesses. There would be no way to deal with the vacancies along main street and to get local initiatives housed and thriving in those vacant buildings without access to financial services.

That community, my community, decided to first take on the banks and it said to those banks that they had no right to desert a community that had been loyal to them for years and years, for decades and decades, and in some cases for more than 100 years. Those banks grew and became profitable because of that loyalty, only to desert that community when it was convenient for the banks because they wanted to make more profit in other areas. That community, my community, decided to take things into its own hands and to say to those banks, “If the banks will not stay and be loyal to us, then we will switch our allegiance and we will find our own way to deal with the situation”.

The community, through the North End Community Renewal Corporation, has developed an alternative financial institutions plan, has tested it and is now in the final stages of putting it into effect, but it needs money and it needs support from all levels of government. I have actually pursued this matter with the Minister of Finance and said to him that he had an obligation to support such community initiatives and to ensure that if the banks desert communities and we cannot legislate them to stay, then surely we, as representatives of this place and as members of a government, have an obligation to help communities help themselves and provide the necessary economic development and financial institutional resources that they need. The essence of this project is helping communities to help themselves.

I urge members of the House to support Bill C-9.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe you would find consent to adjourn the present debate in order to immediately proceed to private members' business.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
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12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is that agreed?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act
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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.