House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have heard over the years innuendoes that FedNor money is being channelled to southern Ontario. Could the member enlighten me as to whether this is true? If it is true, does he know how much FedNor money is being spent in southern Ontario?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a rumour that has been around for quite some time. There has been a rumour about money being funnelled into southern Ontario from FedNor. It is not quite true. This has been going on for a number of years.

There is the community futures program that allows for economic development on a smaller scale and allows small operators to get money. It is a loan program. That money is administered by FedNor out of Sudbury for all of Ontario. That is very important because it is not FedNor money but it is being administered from Sudbury in northern Ontario. Those are federal jobs being put into Sudbury and not centralized in Ottawa. They could have been anywhere in the world.

That is a case for regional economic development in northern Ontario. Business can be conducted from anywhere in the world with today's electronics and programs. With everything that is out there, one can have pretty well anything one wants in northern Ontario. This is a prime example of how federal services put in place by the Liberal Party are creating jobs in Sudbury for the rest of Ontario.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to discuss northern Ontario and specifically the role of FedNor, the regional economic development organization for northern Ontario.

As the Minister of Industry told the members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, our strategy is ”if it ain't broke, don't fix it”.

Our government continues to build a healthy future for northern Ontario and for most economic growth through the delivery of FedNor's northern Ontario development program and the community futures program. It is no secret that FedNor receives broad-based and universal support from mayors, community leaders and other stakeholders in northern Ontario. The reason is simple: it works.

I will now talk about the fine work that FedNor does in northern Ontario through the northern Ontario development program, or NODP.

By hearing more about FedNor's role in northern Ontario, I hope all members will garner a better understanding of how much this organization impacts on the lives of northerners. FedNor does much more than simply fund individual projects in the many communities it serves.

When community partners, leaders and stakeholders identify opportunities for development in northern Ontario, they come to FedNor with these ideas and their proposals. FedNor staff is closely connected to the communities they serve and they know the challenges and needs of those communities.

FedNor works with project proponents to ensure how best to meet their needs. It considers the benefits of specific projects on a local, regional and pan-northern scale, working with partners to maximize the impact of FedNor projects. In short, FedNor takes a truly holistic approach to economic development, funding projects that will collectively strengthen the whole of northern Ontario.

To accomplish this, FedNor focuses on specific sectors or areas of northern Ontario's economy, keeping in mind that each project builds the capacity that is needed to undertake other worthwhile initiatives.

At the same time, FedNor delivers the Government of Canada's agenda in northern Ontario, such as our economic action plan. New initiatives, such as the community adjustment fund, will help us keep the economy of northern Ontario moving.

Canada's economic action plan will have a direct and positive impact on the economy of northern Ontario and FedNor will continue to work closely with northern Ontario communities and industry leaders to ensure that our efforts meet their specific needs.

FedNor supports northern Ontario projects that complement our government's strategy to promote a competitive, knowledge-based nation. In 2007-08, the northern Ontario development program's annual grants and contributions' budget totalled more than $36 million.

I will now illustrate how FedNor is using this budget successfully to grow the northern Ontario economy. First, I will give some background. The northern Ontario development program covers a large geographic area. Northern Ontario represents about 90% of the province's land mass. It stretches from Muskoka to James Bay and from the border of my province of Manitoba to the border of Quebec. This great part of Canada is also home to more than 850,000 people.

The vastness of northern Ontario, given its relatively low population, helps explain some of the challenges, including: geographic isolation from large, urban markets to the south; limited telecommunications and transportation infrastructure; static or declining population; high youth out-migration rates; and a lower than average employment growth. FedNor's northern Ontario development program is working to address these issues and much more.

Specifically, the northern Ontario development program promotes economic growth in northern Ontario through the delivery of contributions funding. Funding is directed primarily to not for profit organizations for projects not eligible for commercial financing and projects that are key to the development of capacity in the north. Program contributions are available to support projects in six areas: community economic development, innovation, information and communications technology, human capital, business financing support, and trade and tourism. FedNor is making a real difference in each of these areas.

In the area of community economic development, FedNor focuses its efforts on strategic planning to enhance business competitiveness and job creation. To help communities deal with the challenges of sudden or severe downturns affecting the local economy, FedNor supports diversification strategies. Never have these types of strategies been more important than they are today during these difficult economic times.

One excellent example is the northern Ontario value-added initiative, or NOVA. This three year initiative is introducing communities affected by the downturn in the forestry sector to new forestry related economic renewal opportunities. NOVA representatives have undertaken a tour of about 200 mills and secondary forestry related operations to introduce this program.

In essence, the project is supporting the development of value-added products and improvements to manufacturing processes as well as providing market access information. In addition to its diversification initiatives, FedNor also promotes regional initiatives that build strong, sustainable communities. One such initiative is the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology, or NORCAT. The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology is one of a cluster of premiere research and development organizations in northern Ontario that our government has supported through FedNor.

With FedNor's help, NORCAT has grown to become a leader in the development and commercialization of new mining technologies. In fact, in April 2008, this government invested $2 million of FedNor funding into NORCAT to construct a state of the art building to house a new incubator facility and centralize NORCAT'S technology development and industrial services. This NORCAT centre will provide the private sector with one-stop access to NORCAT's industrial training and innovation services. It will also bring to the region a new service for small businesses and pre-commercial entrepreneurs.

Once complete, the centre will accommodate up to 22 small and medium size enterprises by providing flexible rental space, access to labs and workshops, as well as business and technology support services. The positive impact of this investment in NORCAT will be felt in northern Ontario for decades to come. It is but one example of the great work FedNor has been able to accomplish under a Conservative government.

Projects like this are building the capacity that northern Ontario needs to diversify its economy. That is community economic development.

To keep moving forward, we must ensure that we have the human capital to support our efforts to build a strong northern Ontario. In that light, FedNor supports other important initiatives that provide northerners with the opportunity to remain in and contribute to their respective communities.

One concrete example is FedNor's successful youth internship program. In the summer of 2006, FedNor celebrated the placement of the program's 1,000th youth intern. Since 2002, FedNor has invested over $35.7 million in youth related projects across northern Ontario. Designed to help post-secondary graduates make the transition from the campus to the workplace, this program provides interns with hands-on experience and an opportunity to find full-time employment in the north. It also helps to stem the tide of youth leaving northern Ontario, which has long been a serious issue in northern Ontario.

We know that only 25% of young people who leave northern Ontario for education or employment opportunities ever return. FedNor is serious about providing opportunities for its best and brightest to ensure they remain and contribute to the future of northern Ontario. As an added benefit, the internship program also provides employment assistance for small businesses and not for profit organizations that are looking to grow.

It is important for the communities and businesses of northern Ontario that FedNor remains flexible and responsive as an organization to benefit the people it serves. As members will hear from my colleagues, FedNor's other areas of focus are also bearing fruit across all of northern Ontario.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

May 14th, 2009 / 5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, which was introduced by my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming. It is not that we support federal government interference in regional development, but if the people of northern Ontario and the Government of Ontario want to create an agency, the Bloc Québécois would obviously be ill advised to oppose it.

The purpose of Bill C-309 is to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, which, like the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, would be responsible for promoting the development of northern Ontario in accordance with an integrated federal strategy.

The Bloc Québécois defends Quebec's interests, and that is why in the past we voted against Bill C-9, which created the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Members will say that we are being inconsistent. We voted against creating an agency in Quebec, yet we support creating an agency in Ontario. I have no problem with that, because if the people in northern Ontario want to create such an agency, then naturally we will support them.

The Bloc Québécois believes, as all the governments of Quebec have believed for more than 45 years, that in order to be able to develop an integrated policy on regional development, Quebec must have control over regional development programs. I will explain this further during my speech.

As my colleague has just said, the regions are the ones with the solutions. Quebec in particular has organizations that focus on the socio-economic development of their regions. These organizations are in a position to properly advise the minister on regional needs and to help with program implementation. The local development centres were created specifically to develop the regional economy and to advise ministers in order to ensure that the investments made would be as cost effective as possible for regional development. Over the years, we have also created another kind of organization, the regional conferences of elected officials, which bring together all mayors and other elected officials in each of the regions. Obviously, they examine every file relating to regional development and they, too, are well placed to provide the minister responsible with proper advice.

The Bloc Québécois is aware that not all governments have the same priorities. Despite the fact that the agency is joyfully trampling on Quebec's toes in its jurisdiction, if the Government of Ontario has decided to welcome this structure into its regional economy, we cannot do otherwise than agree, as I said. It must be pointed out as well that Ontario has been hit very hard by the economic crisis, northern Ontario even more so because of the forestry crisis and the decline of the auto industry.

I would like to make the point that a true regional development strategy needs to include a broad range of components: natural resources, education, training, municipal affairs, land use, infrastructure and so on, none of which are in any way federal responsibilities. In fact, the Canadian Constitution entrusts most things that concern regional development to Quebec and the provinces.

In order to be in a position to create an integrated regional development policy, all of the governments of Quebec in the past 45-plus years have been demanding control of the regional development program.

Between 1973 and 1994, an agreement was in place between the Government of Quebec and the government in Ottawa. According to it, Ottawa could not invest in regional development without the agreement of the Government of Quebec. In 1994, that agreement was broken. Since that time, there have been two parallel structures in Quebec, those of the Government of Quebec and those of the federal government, which both invest in regional development.

Very often the two are in conflict with each other, because the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec sets priorities for itself that are not shared by Quebec or the regions of Quebec. This clash of regional development systems is a very common occurrence.

Another phenomenon has also cropped up since the Conservatives have been in power.

As my colleague mentioned, the government made deep cuts to the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec's budget. Those cuts were significant.

Since 1994, the agency has been investing in research and development organizations responsible for supporting businesses. I could list all kinds of organizations in every region of Quebec that were responsible for helping small and medium-sized businesses conduct research and development and bring their ideas to market.

Small and medium-sized businesses do not necessarily have the financial means to do research and create and launch new products. That is why the agency invested in those kinds of organizations. Then, suddenly, two years ago in 2007, the agency withdrew its support. That is the problem with having two parallel regional development systems. The Canadian agency withdrew, and now a lot of those organizations are in trouble. Basically, the entire structure that the Government of Quebec and the regions of Quebec built over the years has been demolished.

I can provide actual examples of that in my region. Among other things, the forest research centre, which was supported by the Canadian agency, was unexpectedly told that it would have to begin turning a profit within about two years. That was utterly impossible. That kind of development will no longer be happening. The federal government must understand that regional development cannot happen without taking into account each region's priorities and those of the Government of Quebec.

Earlier, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was talking about the Minister of Industry. I should point out that the Minister of Industry was responsible for the agency, and he is the one who cut funding to several organizations in Quebec. The new minister tried to restore funding, but I do not think that he tried hard enough, because instead of restoring the funding, organizations were simply given an extra year within which to become profitable. It is no secret that most research and development organizations will never be profitable because they do research and development to bring products to market. It takes years and years to turn a profit, and that is not what these organizations are meant to do. Their role is to support businesses, not replace them. That is where the government made its mistake.

Earlier, my colleague said that the Minister of Industry was very busy because there are files piled up on his desk. I would say to him that is probably the same tactic he used at the Economic Development Agency of Canada because everything ended up on his desk. Files would languish and he was accused—I believe rightly—of engaging in petty politics, cheap politics, by using the funds of the Economic Development Agency of Canada. In my opinion, the same thing is currently happening at Industry Canada. It is the same minister.

Let us be serious. He probably used the same tactics and is probably continuing to use the same approach. That means files were not dealt with, files are languishing and will continue to do so because he has to look at all of them, one by one, and he does not trust anyone, especially not the directors of agencies in Quebec and probably not Industry department officials.

I am being told that I have one minute left. Therefore I will repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support the creation of a development agency for northern Ontario because that is the decision of the people who live there and of the Ontario government, and that is important to us. Therefore, if those people want it, as a political party that respects all regions, I believe that we must vote for Bill C-309.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming, for introducing Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario.

I would like to thank the member for Saint Boniface for speaking for northern Ontario.

I would also like to recognize and commend the NDP member for Sault Ste. Marie for all his hard work on the development of this legislation in the past Parliament. The member for Sault Ste. Marie has been a tireless advocate for northern Ontario over the years, especially with regard to FedNor.

I would also like to congratulate the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie on all his hard work on this legislative measure during the last parliamentary session. Our hon. colleague has for some years been a staunch advocate for northern Ontario, especially in connection with FedNor.

When I was elected several months ago, I had the great privilege of having the FedNor file assigned to me within the NDP caucus.

When I was elected several months ago, I felt very privileged to be assigned the FedNor file within the NDP caucus. Throughout northern Ontario, people have been experiencing an epidemic rate of job losses over the past few years, and even more so within the past few months. Both of our main sectors, forestry and mining, have been hit hard during this recession. We have seen job losses at Xstrata, Vale Inco, AbitibiBowater, John Deere, CBC, Persona, and the list goes on and on. It is crucial for northern Ontario that we have a fully independent and appropriately resourced economic development agency.

FedNor must be able to adapt to the changing economy and ensure the economic prosperity of the workers of northern Ontario and their families. Its mandate must be drawn up at the local level by the people who live in the region, not by some faceless bureaucrat in the Ottawa offices of Industry Canada.

It is time they stopped treating the people of northern Ontario like second-class citizens. Everywhere in this country there are economic development agencies with what it takes to really encourage the local economy. There is no excuse not to have one for northern Ontario, where we face so many economic challenges.

We need a FedNor that can adapt to our changing economy and ensure economic prosperity for northern Ontario workers and their families. FedNor's mandate needs to be developed locally by the people of northern Ontario, not by some bureaucrat buried within Industry Canada stationed in Ottawa.

It is time to stop treating northern Ontarians like second-class citizens. There are economic development agencies throughout the country that have the capacity to make a real difference in the local economy. There is no excuse not to create one for northern Ontario, where we face so many economic challenges. During this recession, our economy needs to diversify and grow. Now is the time to encourage small business start-ups and expansions, and community economic development.

Because FedNor is underfunded, many worthy projects are turned down. The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation would make northern Ontario a world leader in mining resources and development. CEMI is currently researching exploration, deep mining, integrated mine process engineering, and environmental sustainability, all areas that would greatly enhance the competitiveness of the mining sector not only in northern Ontario but throughout the country.

CEMI has received funding from the Government of Ontario, Vale Inco, Xstrata, Laurentian University, the Greater City of Sudbury, and the Ontario Mineral Industry Cluster. The private sector, provincial and municipal governments have all come to the table to support the centre. Yet, FedNor has declined CEMI's application because it does not have enough funding to meet the request. This is a slap in the face for northern Ontario.

With our mining sector suffering as it is, now is the time for the federal government to pull its weight and invest in research and innovation, so that we can be ready when the economy rebounds.

The long-term care facility at Chelmsford, St. Joseph's Health Centre, is another FedNor reject. This facility will make 128 beds available and employ 160 full- and part-time workers. Once again, the provincial and municipal governments and the community were on board with this project, but FedNor rejected its application because it did not fit into the narrow FedNor mandate.

There is a bed shortage for patients requiring a higher level of care in Sudbury and Nickel Belt, and this institution will be a great help in alleviating that problem.

As well, the area needs good permanent jobs. Nevertheless the FedNor mandate is not flexible enough to meet some of our communities' most crying needs.

A second project that was also turned down by FedNor is the St. Joseph's long-term care facility in Chelmsford. This facility will create 128 long-term care beds and employ 160 full-time and part-time workers. Again, the provincial and municipal governments, as well as the community, have come to the table to support this facility. St. Joseph's application was turned down by FedNor because it does not meet the narrow mandate.

There is an alternative care bed shortage in Sudbury and Nickel Belt. This facility would go a long way in alleviating this crisis. There is also a need for good jobs and permanent employment. Despite this, FedNor's mandate is not flexible enough to meet some of our community's most pressing needs.

Meanwhile, projects throughout southern Ontario are receiving funding through programs administered by FedNor, while the people of northern Ontario are being left behind. Northern Ontario is a socially, geologically, ecologically and economically distinct region situated on the boreal forest of the Canadian Shield. It is home to 102 of the 134 first nations in Ontario, 43% of Ontario's aboriginal population and 27% of Ontario's francophone population. It is a treasure house of natural resources, lands and waters, provincial parks, fisheries and natural wilderness areas. If it were a province, only British Columbia and Quebec would be larger.

Northern Ontario clearly faces unique challenges, but also great opportunities. Our region deserves its own regional economic development agency.

I am urging all members of this House to support this bill through its second reading. The people of northern Ontario have been ignored by the government for far too long. With the passage of this legislation, FedNor would be able to take its rightful place as an independent, fully funded economic development agency. I think it is broke, so let us fix it.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-309, in the name of my distinguished colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming.

My colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming, is the chair of our national caucus. He is a very powerful and consistent voice for regional development in northern Ontario. He is somebody who speaks often in our caucus and in numerous meetings I have attended about the importance of investing in the regions of the country, about the importance of understanding that the regional economy of the area he represents in northern Ontario is different from some of the challenges or some of the economies, for example, in southern Ontario, which is also suffering in this very difficult Conservative recession.

Our colleague, when he introduced the bill, made a very compelling case why FedNor should in fact have its separate legal status and a statute creating an agency of the Government of Canada and not simply a program buried at the Department of Industry.

I come from Atlantic Canada. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA, as my colleague from northern Ontario noted, has a separate statute. It is created by an act of Parliament with a mandate. It is set up under federal law to operate as an agency of the Government of Canada. It is not subject to an administrative committee or a bureaucratic decision at some third level buried at the Department of Industry.

I do not know why economic development in northern Ontario would take a second-class position to the importance of investing in regional development in Atlantic Canada, in western Canada, with the economic diversification initiative, or in the Quebec regions with Développement economique Canada pour les régions du Québec.

As my colleague pointed out earlier, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec operates at arm's length from the government.

I think it would be a good idea to have a minister in Parliament who can appear before parliamentary committees, a minister responsible for credits and for protecting the interests of northern Ontario.

We are left to ask ourselves why the Conservative government is going to oppose the bill. Why are the Conservatives going to resist putting regional development in northern Ontario on the same footing as it is in other regions of the country? Why did they create an agency for economic development in southern Ontario? As I said a minute ago, that region is suffering serious economic distress as a result of the global economic recession and the inability of the Conservative government to face head on the economic challenges facing every region of the country.

Is there an agenda in the Conservative government to abandon northern Ontario? Are the Conservatives leaving it as a program at the Department of Industry instead of a separate agency of the government created by statute? Did someone at some meeting on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon at the Department of Industry on Queen Street here in Ottawa decide that another program in the department was short of money so they would get a bit from FedNor?

It is horribly unfair to leave the economic future of the communities represented by my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming and other members of the House from northern Ontario so vulnerable in the face of competing budget priorities and in the face of what I believe is a complete disinterest on the part of the Conservative government in regional development.

As I said a moment ago, I represent a riding in rural New Brunswick where regional development is essential not only for the economic future of the community, but also for municipalities to have access to an infrastructure program that meets the unique needs of smaller municipalities and some remote and regional communities.

One of the more compelling arguments for economic development that I have ever heard, and for the idea that the Government of Canada has to be involved in regional development, came from the late Harrison McCain. Mr. McCain was a great New Brunswick entrepreneur who began the McCain Foods global enterprise which operates in dozens of countries around the world.

McCain Foods began as an idea to process potatoes in a village called Florenceville, New Brunswick. In the 1970s, when the two McCain brothers, the late Harrison McCain and Wallace McCain, decided to open McCain Foods, they could not find a commercial lending institution that would give two entrepreneurs from rural New Brunswick the millions of dollars they needed to set up their first french fry production facility.

The department of regional industrial expansion existed at that time in the Trudeau government. That was the federal economic development agency which decided to partner with McCain Foods in rural New Brunswick. I have heard Harrison McCain tell the story himself about the interest of the Government of Canada in helping people in the small village of Florenceville. Florenceville probably has a population of less than a few thousand. It is an hour and a half drive from the city of Fredericton, along the Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick, known as the potato belt because it is a very fertile area for growing potatoes. If the Government of Canada had not stood by the McCain brothers in the 1970s, we would not have a globally competitive business called McCain Foods operating in almost every continent called.

When we think of what the importance of a small investment meant at that time to the future economic prosperity of a company as important, I would argue, to Canada and to our export picture as a food-producing country as McCain Foods, then we have not understood the importance of the federal role in regional development.

That brings me back to my colleague's bill, Bill C-309, which seeks simply to give FedNor the same status as the other economic development agencies. It does not seek, as some Conservative members would assert, to increase the budget or duplicate administrative costs, or set up a corporate service branch that does not exist now. As my colleague accurately described, these services currently exist within the program operated as FedNor. What does not exist is the legal status of an agency with a mandate from this Parliament to operate in the interests of the economic development of a region as important to our country as is northern Ontario.

Consider the difficulties in the forestry sector, for example. My colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming has spoken many times about the challenge the American subsidies around black liquor represent for the Canadian pulp and paper industry. It is a very critical time for this industry. Thousands of jobs have already been lost. Tens of thousands of jobs are threatened. The government needs to get engaged in the fight to support these industries, workers and communities.

If we do not have a separate agency like FedNor, which can understand the economic challenges of the forestry or mining sectors in the economy of northern Ontario, and we simply rely on the Department of Industry on Queen Street in Ottawa to be interested in the difficulties of operating a sawmill in a small remote community of northern Ontario where there is the challenge of building logging roads across a vast expanse of territory, then we have not understood the importance of building a truly national economy.

If the Conservative government were sincere about wanting every region of the country to prosper, it would stand up for FedNor. It would not bury it in some office at the Department of Industry in Ottawa. It would give it a legal status similar to ACOA, which is an agency that is so important to my region in Atlantic Canada, or to DEC, Développement économique Canada pour les régions du Québec. It would support Bill C-309, which I think is a great testimony to the commitment of my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming to northern Ontario.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to and discuss the implications of private member's Bill C-309.

The bill proposes, at a significant cost to the taxpayer, to create a new federal agency with its own deputy minister and with its own bureaucracy to administer economic development programs exclusively to northern Ontario. Bill C-309, in essence, aims to create an agency to do what FedNor, a program administered by Industry Canada, is already doing and doing quite well.

Communities and rural areas in northern Ontario continue to face challenges that affect the stability and the development of their economy, both in the short and in the long term. Some of these challenges include: geographic isolation from large urban markets to the south; limited telecommunications and transportation infrastructure; static or declining population; a high youth out-migration rate; lower than average employment growth; and limited ability and capacity to respond to the current global economic slowdown.

This great part of our country certainly deserves the support of Canada's government, and I am proud to say that FedNor has been leading the way for years.

Since its inception in 1987, FedNor has been operating successfully within Industry Canada. On a daily basis, FedNor staff work with a diverse client base in an effort to build a stronger and more prosperous northern Ontario. These clients include business leaders and professional groups in the areas of tourism, transportation, telecommunications, resource industries, small business, health research and education.

It appears that the intention of my hon. colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming in tabling this bill is to ensure that the government will provide the support that northern Ontario needs to continue to thrive. Today, FedNor is providing this support and it is doing so quite successfully, I might add.

To understand the implications of the bill, we need to turn the clock back just a bit.

In 1987 the federal economic development initiative for northern Ontario, FedNor, was created to serve the economic development needs of the northern part of this province. It was established as a program within Industry Canada, within its regional operations sector, where it still remains today.

It was in 1995, some eight years later, when Industry Canada, through FedNor, became responsible for administering the community futures program across rural Ontario.

In other regions, the community futures program is administered by the three existing regional development agencies in Canada: the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Western Economic Diversification and the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

What makes the community futures program unique is that each community futures organization counts on the expertise of volunteer boards made up of local residents who bring a variety of expertise to the table.

The community futures program builds on the philosophy that local residents are best positioned to make decisions about the future of their communities. The program has become a driving force for business and for community development across the province of Ontario.

We move some seven years later to 2004 when FedNor took on the responsibility of administering the new eastern Ontario development program. The success of this program can, in part, be attributed to the excellent administration and flexible management structure from which FedNor currently benefits by being part of Industry Canada.

In addition to the responsibilities I have mentioned, FedNor also administers funding for the economic development of official language minority communities in Ontario. This has involved coordinating consultations with our official language minority communities to identify gaps and to identify needs.

FedNor has taken a lead role in promoting the vitality of these communities by working with its community futures partners to bring about service improvements. These efforts are helping to ensure that the community futures development corporations have the support they need to meet the official language needs of their communities.

In the past, FedNor has administered other initiatives in Ontario,on behalf of the Government of Canada, such as the softwood industry community economic adjustment initiative.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I must interrupt the member. When the House returns to this matter, he will have five minutes remaining.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I asked a question in the House and the answer really did not address the question at all.

One of the key comments I made was that the Minister of Public Safety was strong on spin, but weak on crime. Now what I need to add is he and his government are tough on police. That is an unfortunate reality of the decisions and the policies of the Conservative government.

Is it not enough that the government has broken its promise to put 2,500 more police on the street? I had a visit from representatives of the police and RCMP. They advised me that the funding, which would not have covered 2,500 police in either case, was not tied to any additional police being hired. Therefore, the funding the Conservative government claimed was for more police, had no accountability that it would actually deliver more police. I could not get any clarity as to whether one additional police officer or RCMP officer had been hired, based on the promise made by the government. That is simply not good enough. We know how critical police are to apprehending criminals and also to preventing crime, an important objective. This is another broken promise.

Second, the approach of the Conservative government to strangle the gun registry is completely not supported by evidence. It is not supported by members of the public. It is not supported by the Association of Chiefs of Police. Police officers use this gun registry 9,000 times a day. More than 5,000 affidavits have been provided by the Canadian Firearms Registry to support the prosecution of firearms related crime and court proceedings.

Having a gun registry, according to the police, is a matter of personal safety for their officers. If a policeman is entering a residence in a building and does not have access to an up-to-date accurate registry to find out whether he or she can expect that he or she will face a gun, that police officer's safety is compromised.

Guns used in tragedies, like the rampage through the École Polytechnique de Montréal in which 14 women lost their lives, would have been registered by the long gun registry.

Finally, the government is opposing the rights of police officers, and that is enough to make me shake my head. The government rolled back its promise on the wages for RCMP officers, would have brought them to a level that was at parity with other police officers in Canada. Now the government is opposing collective bargaining rights for their front line officers, whose lives are at risk on a daily basis through their activities.

I would appeal to the government. Yes, strong laws for those who are guilty of series crimes is important, and the Liberals support that. However, we need strong prevention measures, including supporting our police forces and RCMP, rather than being tough on police.

6:30 p.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I rise to respond to the question put to the House by the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra regarding the issue of escalating gang violence in British Columbia, at least that is what it was supposed to be, but she certainly rambled around a whole bunch of issues. I will focus my answer on gang violence in British Columbia.

The government is committed to giving the streets of our cities back to law-abiding citizens. We believe community safety is a defining value, indeed, a fundamental right in Canadian society. The government is taking concrete action on all fronts and is implementing a balanced approach to reducing crime.

We are providing the law enforcement community with the tools it needs to combat crime, and we have recently introduced new crime bills to this effect. We are ensuring there is more police presence in our streets, through increased investments in the RCMP in support of hiring of over 1,000 new RCMP police and civilian staff and through our $400 million police officer fund that supports provinces and municipalities to recruit 2,500 additional officers. We are also supporting effective crime prevention measures that will help communities and families keep youth away from lives of drugs and crime.

We are taking a two-pronged approach, holding accountable before the law those who commit crimes, while helping those who may be at risk before they turn to a life of crime.

In this respect, we have renewed the national crime prevention strategy in 2008, effectively doubling the permanent funding for the strategy. This will lead to more stability and predictability in crime prevention efforts across Canada.

The hon. member of Parliament would be interested to know that the National Crime Prevention Centre is currently funding more than 20 community-based projects in the province of British Columbia, which are designed to steer vulnerable children and youth away from crime. Two of these projects, worth $2.1 million, are funded through the youth gang prevention program to specifically address the issue of gangs by preventing youths from joining gangs in the first place. These multi-year investments will deliver concrete results to British Columbia communities.

Effective crime prevention measures cannot be implemented without the active support of local communities, the voluntary sector, parents, and schools. We are therefore working very closely with them to ensure they have access to the most up-to-date information on what works to prevent crime, especially among children and youth who are most vulnerable to negative influence because of their personal lives and circumstances. Furthermore, we are working very closely with provincial governments to ensure the prevention measures that are developed also respond to their priorities.

The effective responses to crime and insecurity require a coordinated approach that brings together all partners and orders of government in a focused effort to combat violence. That is the approach this government is taking.

Allow me to underscore the point that our efforts to refocus the national crime prevention strategy were designed to maximize its benefits and effects. This is why the strategy now provides support to communities to implement interventions that are based on the best available evidence and target those most in need.

The youth gang prevention fund helps fund community groups that work with troubled youth to prevent them from becoming involved in gang violence by targeting specific risk factors associated with youth gang activity and youth at the highest risk of gang involvement.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to ask the hon. member opposite, who was laughing along with his colleagues while I was speaking, whether he was laughing about the idea of a police officer entering a home and not having information about whether there was a dangerous weapon, or the tragedy at École Polytechnique where 14 young women lost their lives, or at the idea that the RCMP may wish pay parity and that the pay promise be respected by the Conservative government.

Instead, we heard a laundry list of motherhood statements and generalities. I would like know this. What happened to the skills link program, where 550 spaces in the greater Vancouver area have gone down to 110 spaces for the very youth who are most at risk, those who do not graduate from high school and need that program to help get them into the workforce?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, through the safer communities strategy, our government is implementing a basket of measures that are both tough and effective on crime. They foster enhanced enforcement, sentencing corrections and prevention efforts.

The refocused approach of crime prevention invests in supporting initiatives that are now more focused on those most at risk of offending, including youth at risk of joining gangs. Our goal is to discourage young people from joining gangs and to help those already involved in gangs to get out and get on the right path.

Let me just finish by suggesting the hon. member make herself far more informed of the allegations she makes. On this side of the House, there happens to be four members who were police officers, who would be happy to speak to the member at any time to explain some of these things. With all due respect, I do not want to get into any disagreement with the member, but it is important she knows what the important issues are to the House and to Canadians.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on March 31 I had the opportunity to ask a question of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. She equally had the opportunity to answer it, but she unfortunately decided to sidestep the question. I welcome this second opportunity and I hope the government does as well.

I want to delve into some of the problems that are faced by people in my riding with respect to employment insurance. In fact, they face two devastating effects of the global economic crisis: its effect on the manufacturing sector in Ontario and on the employment insurance program that systematically discriminates against Ontario residents.

Very specifically, I questioned the minister about a constituent of mine in Don Valley West who had lost her learning-while-working internship program because the program was cut due to the economic crisis we are in. This young woman had worked 724 hours before losing her position. However, because of the outdated regulations governing EI, this young woman was not eligible to receive benefits. Consequently, she has no way to feed her family, pay her rent or survive. However, if she had lived in many other parts of the country, she would have had the requisite hours. She would have qualified and would have collected benefits. This is simply wrong. It is simply not fair.

The current EI system in Canada leaves 60% of unemployed Canadians out in the cold. Think about that. Six out of every 10 Canadians who find themselves unemployed do not qualify for benefits. Something is wrong with this picture. The minister provided and continues to provide unsatisfactory responses when questioned about EI. On her watch, unemployment has continued to rise. All the while, EI has become more and more difficult to collect.

On May 8 it was announced that the unemployment rate is now at 8%, the highest level in seven years. Since October 2008, 321,000 additional Canadians have lost their jobs. Yet, the government is unwilling to revisit the EI program, even though its own constituents must be telling it the same thing. The very nature of unemployment and employment in the economy has changed, so the way that EI works has to change as well. EI needs to be responsive to the situation and it needs to be responsive to people.

We need an EI system that changes with the realities of the economy and the needs of Canadians. If the government were to do something now, perhaps it would save us all from being in a worse situation. If it were to address the EI problem right now, we might all avoid the huge unemployment numbers that Canadians found themselves in the last time the Conservatives were in power. The Liberals had to come to the rescue in 1993.

I remind the House that when the Conservatives left office in 1993, they left an unemployment rate of 11.2%. After 13 years of sound Liberal management, we left a 6.6% unemployment rate. That is what they inherited and they squandered it. They have squandered many things, but they have squandered people's lives and jobs. EI is the best economic stimulus we have to keep the economy going. It is money that gets spent.

Of course, I am supportive of shovel ready infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy. However, my constituents, as individuals, are also shovel ready. They want to work and there is no work for them. They want to keep food on the table and rent paid. EI is money that goes into the economy, helps people keep jobs, and staves off higher unemployment rates. The government should not be afraid of change. It should not be afraid of fairness or equality. It should not be afraid of intelligence or compassion.

The government needs to make the EI system responsive to the economy, which has changed.

6:40 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have to say at the outset that I always find it amusing whenever a Liberal gets up and starts talking about all the problems within the EI system because, as we know and I think most Canadians know, we inherited the current EI system from the Liberal government. As a matter of fact, when the Liberals first set up this program in 1996, unemployment rates were higher than they are now.

So, what did we do? We took the basic shell, the basic premise of the program, and we made distinct and significant improvements. Prior to this year's budget, we held widespread consultations across Canada, talking to stakeholders, seeing what they would like to have in an EI program.

What did they tell us? First, they said, without question, they would like to see extended benefits at the tail end of the benefit period. We did that. We extended the benefit period by five weeks.

Second, they said they would like to see more money put into skills upgrading and job training for those people who are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs. We did that. We spent billions of dollars, not only for those people who qualify for EI but we spent over $500 million for skills upgrading programs for those people who did not qualify for EI to begin with.

Last, we extended the work share program by 14 weeks. The result of that is that close to 100,000 Canadians have kept their jobs because of that initiative.

I think the other thing we have to examine here is the significant improvements we made to the EI program. As a once very worthy political mentor of mine said, “Don't compare us against perfection. Compare us against the alternative”.

What I would point out is what the Liberal Party is advocating with respect to EI. It is advocating, as is the NDP, that there be a threshold of 360 hours. Three hundred and sixty hours, and then someone would be able to start collecting EI. Some people might find that to be attractive. However, that is an absolute disaster waiting to happen. It is fiscally irresponsible. What that means, if we break it down, is that anyone who works for 45 days, at 8 hours a day, can qualify for EI. The Liberal Party, quite frankly, does not even know how long those benefits might extend to. It could extend for up to a year.

I think anyone who suggests for a moment that a worker who works for 45 days and then goes on EI for up to a year, who thinks that is a legitimate and fiscally responsible program for Canadians, does not know what they are talking about.

What that means is that employers and employees will have to start paying more money. It is called a payroll tax. Someone has to pay for that. It is just one more tax that the Liberals are advocating.

We know that the leader of the Liberal Party has said he would have to raise taxes to pay for the deficit. He has not told us yet exactly what taxes he would raise and who would pay them. We are starting now to get a glimpse of his plan. This is the first step in the Liberals' raising taxes regime. I expect there will be more to come. However, this is something that no Canadian should stand for. It is, pure and simple, the wrong approach. We do not raise taxes during a recession. That is the Liberal approach and it is the wrong approach.