House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the sharing of difficult experiences with the member across. However, on that timeline, I spent most of my speech talking about how I am here as youth critic. That era has passed, and as we know, some of the key players in that area have taken a very different turn.

When we talk about the real NDP and people who are truly part of the New Democratic Party, I am very proud to come from a province where we have an NDP government. It has been extremely proactive and supportive of the police and policing activities.

However, as I pointed out, northern Manitoba depends on the fine work of the RCMP. I can assure the hon. member, I have been in many first nations communities, where the lack of officers has been made extremely clear to me. Many young officers do not have experienced officers to work with, which jeopardizes their safety, their security and in many ways their lives, and the federal government is not responding to that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate. I think the last sequence of debate took us a bit off the bill, Bill C-15, which deals with changes to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The purpose of the bill is to impose mandatory minimum sentences on what are called serious drug crimes and to make a couple of other changes. Those other changes, I support. It is the part dealing with mandatory minimums that catches my attention and I regret that the government is taking the approach that it is.

I enjoyed listening to the remarks of the member for Burnaby—Douglas and the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin who, from my point of view, really did hit the nail on the head. I would be personally happy to reread those speeches myself, because I thought they delivered to the House a lot of personal experience and a lot of reference material from outside the House that bears directly on point, that being the relevance and usefulness of mandatory minimum sentences.

The government members have, throughout this Parliament and in the prior Parliament, continued to perpetuate what I regard as a myth, the myth being that the solution to crime is to throw people in jail and keep them there.

To me, that is quite simplistic, and in fact, it does not work. However, when we think about it, that is just about exactly what the king used to do 1,500 years ago. If there was a criminal and they caught him or her--I am sure there was employment equity back then--they would throw the person into the dungeon and just keep them there until they did or did not survive, or whatever happened. So the Conservative government's perpetuation of this paradigm that the solution to crime is to put people in jail, put them in the dungeon and keep them there, is a great disappointment to me. As most of the previous speakers have said and as the evidence brought forward at the justice committee shows, not just one hearing, not just one year, because I was a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for 19 years and I had a lot of education in those years at taxpayer expense, I can say without any reservation at all that the concept of throwing people in jail as a solution to crime does not work.

As previous speakers have pointed out, our friends south of the border, in the United States of America, have learned that at great cost, human cost and dollar cost. Building prisons is not going to adequately deal with the challenge of crime.

I would argue that there has been one visible exception to my position that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. That exception is related to the offence of impaired driving.

It is a fact that we as a country have increased sentencing for a conviction for impaired driving and for subsequent convictions. We have added in some mandatory minimum incarceration for impaired driving, and the statistics show that this has had a favourable impact. There has been a reduction in drunk driving, in impaired driving. We have not eliminated the problem. We all know that people are still dying and being injured and maimed on Canadian roads because of impaired drivers. However, the combination of increased penalties, targeted increases in the penalties, firming up of fines, suspensions and some minor mandatory minimum sentencing, together with public education and visible increased enforcement, has produced a result.

However, I am of the view that it is not principally the increased sentencing that has worked. It is the increased enforcement, together with the knowledge that, if we are caught, we will pay a price. There will be a serious consequence. We may lose our licence; we may do time; we may be fined. In addition to that, the type of person who would commit that type of crime is usually quite different from the type of person who might be committing another type of criminal offence.

They are all serious criminal offences, but the most common circumstance involving a person who drinks and drives and does or does not cause injury but just gets caught as an impaired driver involves a person who probably does not have a criminal record, but might have, who simply drinks too much. The act of drinking is a fairly normal human activity. Drinking too much past the limit is an offence, but that is different from someone who plans and executes a bank robbery or someone who is involved in the drug trade and who plans and executes drug deals.

With that one exception, I am irrevocably of the view that mandatory minimums just do not accomplish anything other than placing convicted persons in institutions perhaps for longer than they need to be, and it removes the judicial discretion to fix a sentence that suits the crime and all the circumstances.

In looking at the sequence of procedures involved, surrounding a criminal act, it is not just the end part of conviction and sentence that we should be focusing on. What leads up to that in real life is actually a fairly complex and lengthy sequence of events. There is the planning of the criminal act, there is the execution of the criminal act, there is an investigation by police, there is a charging procedure, a prosecution, a conviction, and then there is the sentencing.

I am urging the House and asking my friends on the government side, can they not see that by changing the law to provide an impact, a mandatory minimum sentence, at the very end at the sentencing could not possibly impact on the front end of all of that sequence? The criminal act, the investigation, the charge, the prosecution, the conviction, all of those things happen before the sentencing. The individual, the alleged criminal, the accused, gets involved in this, and in most cases, as my friend from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin pointed out, as we both practised in criminal courts, the average criminal does not see the end of the process. The criminal is only thinking about whether he or she is going to get caught. It is binary in terms of the person's own head logic: Is there is risk of getting caught or not; can I get away with this crime? That person is not getting out a calculator to figure out what the sentence is and whether it is worth doing or not.

I have asked in the House, what is the sentence for an armed robbery? I know my friend from Scarborough Centre does not know and my friend from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is an experienced counsel, actually does not know either. The reason none of us knows is because the Criminal Code provides that the sentence is determined by a judge.

If a person does a bank robbery, he or she is going to get a sentence. The courts have organized the sentencing in a way that a bank robbery is a very serious offence and the offender is going to do serious time.

The point is that if we in the House who enact the legislation, fix the penalties, and debate the policy do not know what the penalty is, how the heck is that undereducated criminal out there to know? As he or she decides to embark on a crime or a crime spree, that person does not know. They might have a sense of it a little later when they call their lawyer, but when they decide to engage in the crime, they do not give it much thought. They are only thinking about whether there is a Mountie around the corner and whether they are going to get caught.

Members of the House perpetrate the myth with pretense and political posturing when they say they are going to get tough on crime and increase the sentence. That public policy does not have a chance of impacting the sources of the crime, the decision to embark on the crime spree. It just does not compute.

As I said, it will be shocking for my friend from Edmonton—St. Albert if he is going to visit all these prisons this summer. It is a wonderful exercise to meet all these people, but I think he will come to the same conclusion that I and almost every other member in the House who has had the privilege of serving on the justice committee or public safety committee will come to.

There are real limits to how much we in the House can have an impact on the causes of crime just by tweaking the sentence. Nobody will know, but we tell ourselves that we are being tough on crime.

In my view, we are just being stupid. We are just engaging in political posturing and perpetuating a myth, the same one that was there when the king and the sheriff used to throw the body into the dungeon 1,500 years ago. The causes of crime in our society will continue unaddressed.

I want to draw an analogy. Let us say that a bank has a history of bad loans to customers. Let us say the bank president decides that they are going to have to deal with all those bad loans. There are too many bad loans out there. What do we think the solution is for the bank to deal with a very bad history of loans, a lot of write-offs? Do we think the solution is collections at the end of the history of the loan? Do we think the bank is going to improve its bottom line by focusing on the collections? Here I draw the analogy to sentencing.

No. In order to improve the history of bad loans, one has to get involved at the front end, in the loan approval process. A better credit screen has to be provided at the front end, not at the end of the line when the loan has gone bad. That is the analogy I want to urge upon the House. There is no point in cracking down on the bad loans when they are in debt recovery and collection. In order to improve the bank loan history, one has to get involved at the front end, when the loan is approved in the first place, and how the loan is administered.

I am using that analogy to apply to the criminal justice system. We as a society have to make sure that we get out into the front end of the sociological piece to address the causes of crime and the context that breeds crime. We have to better deal with how we manage our laws and procedures to deal with drugs. We have to realize that a person who is addicted is a health problem, not a criminal problem. If we treat it as a criminal problem, we just end up funding it a certain way. It is putting people in the dungeon again, and dungeons do not normally help anybody do anything. They get a little older and little smarter. Actually, they are schools for crime.

I will close by re-emphasizing my view that the government politics, and it is politics and not good policy, on this is taking us down a road built upon a myth related to the dungeons of the king. It does not work. We have to get this right. I am very reluctant to support this bill. This bill has three parts to it: two parts good and one part bad. I regret that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I always find it refreshing listening my colleague on the opposite side and have grown to admire his frankness. However, today I think he is exercising a little bit of hyperbole when he is talking about dungeons, et cetera.

I like his illustration regarding bad loans and a need for a more effective loan approval process. Certainly, that is part of it, but it is only part of it. Collections actually do play a role in the whole process, as in the justice system where we need to prevent crime. We have invested significant money. In fact, I remember making an announcement in the riding I represent to an organization that reaches out to youth to keep them from crime.

However, we also need to make sure that for those law-abiding citizens in our communities, we not only do justice but that we appear just as well. That means that we make sure that those people who break the law actually have a sentence that is requisite to the crime they have committed.

I would like to ask the member opposite this. Does he not think that there are many facets to the whole process of justice and that sentences are a part of it, not just keeping people from crime?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree 100% with my friend.

I would not suggest for a moment that sentencing is not a part of the criminal justice system. Let us take a look at the Criminal Code, there is lots of sentencing in there. We have lots of prisons.

My point is that sentencing is not the big solution. It is not the big magic bullet fix that is being urged upon us politically. I agree 100%, and I could not say more. Getting out in front and dealing with the causes of crime is part of it and sentencing is a part of it as well.

The member did make a reference to a sentence that is commensurate with the crime and the circumstances, and I agree with that fully. That is why we have courts and judges. We usually allow them that decision to deal with that whole constellation of sentencing factors because we could not possibly provide for it here. We could not possibly cover off every factual situation when we write out a sentence for a crime. We allow judges to deal with those.

We have the sentencing factors and criteria set out in the Criminal Code. That is one of the reasons why, for the most part, I object to the mandatory minimum because it is a dead-headed, blind imposition of a custodial sentence, when in fact in some cases it might not be appropriate. However, we do not know the appropriate case.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I was very impressed with the eloquent argument as to why mandatory minimum sentences make this such a bad bill.

Even if it is one-third bad, a bad bill is a bad bill. I assume and hope that the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River will be voting against the bill and persuading his brethren to vote against it.

My question to him will build on his metaphor about the king and the neo-feudalism here. We have a Conservative Party which, through NAFTA and softwood lumber and other bad budget decisions, has destroyed much of our industrial base, our economic base, jobs, families and communities. The Conservatives have failed to help those unemployed persons through EI or other support systems and have driven those poor people into using or selling drugs.

Now, rather than investing in prevention, harm reduction or treatment for those unfortunate people, they want to force more of those impoverished desperate people into jails at a cost to the taxpayers of $72,000 to $110,000 per person.

My question to the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River is this. Does he have any idea why these Conservatives are so obsessed with punishing the weakest people in our society?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not think our colleagues opposite have wilfully foisted the recession upon us, nor do I think that they think that putting people in jail is the economic fix that we need for the country.

There is quite a bit of difference among the different parties in the House as to how we should respond to the recession. There are those in particularly dire straits, those who do not perhaps have access to the EI system, and those who have fallen between the cracks in various parts of the country. There are increasing numbers of people out there in dire straits, not just single people but there are families. There are men and women with children and dependants.

Maybe we are not grappling too well with that as a federal Parliament. Maybe the provinces are expected to play a role in this as well and municipalities. However, I take the member's question as notice of a huge problem out there and I would not blame my colleagues opposite for all the bad stuff that is out there right now.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his comments and referencing me in his comments.

I would like to point out to the hon. member that I am certainly not so delusional or naive that I think that our federal prisons are free of drugs. I understand that there are drug problems even inside the penitentiary system. I understand that.

However, I think that misses the point and I think that misses my comments as to why I am supporting Bill C-15. The real victims of this crime are, for example, the 14-year-old girl from Edmonton who a month and a half ago died from an overdose of ecstasy, a single dose. She purchased it at the West Edmonton Mall, went to a rave, ingested the ecstasy, was misled by the dealer as to its dosage, and she died. She is the real victim.

That is the individual that we are trying to protect by promoting minimum mandatory sentences in Bill C-15.

I listened to the member's comments very intently and he has, of course, been in the House a lot longer than I have. He talked about how during his tenure as a member of Parliament sentences for impaired driving had increased over the years and that there are in fact minimum mandatory sentences and they escalate on subsequent offences. He spoke in favour of that, if I heard him correctly.

Therefore, I want him to explain to me and explain to the House why he supports minimum mandatory sentences for impaired driving but not for trafficking in narcotics.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, in my remarks, I did distinguish between the person likely to be involved in and convicted of an impaired driving offence. But going over to the drug side, in a basic hypothetical situation, if we took a big dealer in a prohibited drug, and we caught him or her, proved all the elements of the offence, and it was a big crime, I do not think many people would have a difficulty with a sentence that was at least a year.

In many cases, someone who is a big dealer in prohibited drugs of that nature is going to get a sentence much greater than one year. The problem is that we may get an individual who is not the hypothetical one, a person who falls into the category of trafficking just by a hair and falls into the kind of person that the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin mentioned earlier, where someone was misled about what was inside the books, the drugs, the cocaine, the heroin or whatever it was, and the relative injustice that is perpetrated because we have this cookie cutter sentence of minimum one year.

That is where the minimum sentence falls short in my view.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-15. I follow a very long list of extremely good speeches. All of the speakers have been absolutely excellent.

I want to begin by reading a quote, which is as follows:

I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins. I may accept that.

Does anyone know who may have made a comment like that? It certainly could not have been a member of the government that is bringing in this particular bill. It was none other than the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, a member of the Conservative Party who has stood up and asked questions of every speaker this afternoon. He himself is admitting that this bill will not do what it is supposed to.

The issue then becomes this. If that is the case, why are we going through this exercise? Why has the government embarked on this exercise? We know that this is all about window dressing. This is all about politics, about burnishing the government's image with the public to give the appearance of being tough on crime.

Let us look at a jurisdiction, namely the United States, where this idea has been tried and failed.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I am afraid I must interrupt the hon. member. He will have 18 minutes remaining to continue his comments.

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.

The House resumed from April 21 consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to say a few words on the Bloc Québécois Motion No. 288. The other day I spoke briefly on another motion from the Bloc and I was not in favour of it. Today, however, I am extremely proud to support the Bloc motion. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should reconsider its decision to eliminate the funding channelled through the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec to non-profit bodies active in the economic development sector, and reinstate their funding.

I am not from Quebec, but from New Brunswick, its neighbour. The Conservative government has a habit of cutting funding and acting without any consideration toward the agencies for the promotion and economic development of the regions of Canada. I am in favour of this motion because the Conservative government has done a lot of damage to Canada's economic development agencies, and more specifically, as this motion says, the agency for the regions of Quebec.

The hon. minister of state has recently announced that the Economic Development Agency would be reinstating the funding to these bodies, but this is not true. Let us be clear and precise about this. The things that the government has done to that agency are unjust and do not respect the goals of promoting this country's economic development agencies. I must point out something: the same goes for my Atlantic region.

For example, in the region of Atlantic Canada, by the change to the method by which transfers were made to the province of New Brunswick, the province of New Brunswick will receive this year $29 million less than it would have received had a Liberal government been re-elected in the election of 2006. This is happening across the country.

What is really telling is that in this case, the cuts to the agency we are speaking of in particular have been continuous and without replacement. There has been a 45% decrease in the funding to this agency in the province of Quebec.

As I said before, I stand in unison with my friends from the beautiful province de Quebec, not because it is a Quebec issue, but because it is a national issue. It is an issue that affects all regional economic development agencies, but in particular, we are speaking about this agency.

In my view, the Conservative government does not believe in regional development. There is a quote from the Prime Minister, which I would like to share with the House. It is quite instructive on why this step has taken place, why we, as opposition members, should be against its vision of Canada and Quebec and why we should be in support of this motion. The quote is from Global News, February 24, 2002:

We have in this country a federal government that increasingly is engaged in trying to determine which business, which regions, which industries will succeed, which will not through a whole range of economic development, regional development corporate subsidization programs. I believe that in the next election we got to propose a radical departure from this...

If this were a debate about language policy or how the Prime Minister truly feels about Atlantic Canadians or bilingualism, as I mentioned, we could go back to the famous speech in Montreal of 1997, but on this side, we do not like to go back and harp on past sayings and past personal statements of leaders. This is only in 2002 and it is specifically about regional development agencies. It is very clear that from the top, down, the Prime Minister had it in mind to make cuts, such as were visited upon this agency, from the day he was elected by minority vote in 2006.

The dramatic change in application requests is clearly a sign that the Conservative government has changed the rules and made it much more difficult to obtain financial assistance. The Conservatives have proven they cannot make government work on their own when we need it. They have a mere 4% success rate when it comes to the delivery of their own programs. Not only are they, in this very instance, cutting the very core funding to programs and cutting the very existence of the agency in question, they are making the agencies less effective as they stand. It is almost as if they wish for all of these agencies to disappear, which was, I think, what the prime minister-in-waiting, the leader of the opposition in 2002, really wanted to happen in the first place.

The guts of the motion is to reinstate the 2005-06 levels of funding, and that would be up to the level of $400 million. The government has cut funding to regional development and made it more difficult for organizations.

The second point in my short speech is with respect to the not-for profit agencies, which are in many cases cultural in nature. It goes to the very core value of the Conservative government with respect to cultural agencies.

Despite all of the rhetoric from the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the fact is the government stands against the idea of cultural agencies. I believe it feels that culture and the support for cultural agencies and institutions should come from the private sector.

If we look back on previous comments of groups such as the National Citizens Coalition and the Fraser Institute, I think the bedrock of Conservative ideology, the ideology that should be apparent not in the words but in the actions of the other side, is this private sector support for cultural agencies and not-for-profits. The Conservatives believe that with respect to child care. They believe that with respect to broadcasting, with their non-support of CBC's request for bridge financing. However, of late, in an attempt to appear perhaps a little more, shall we say, liberal in their approach to not-for-profits and cultural agencies, they have not been as explicit in their hard core Conservative ideology against regional agencies, cultural agencies and institutions.

The motion and the debate around it serves to re-establish the debate about what is left, what is right and what is centre.

It is important for Canadians and Quebeckers to know that a debate is going on at this time concerning cultural issues and the support to this country's economic development agencies.

A debate is taking place with respect to whether Canadians believe in things such as bilingualism, support for culture and the arts and support for regional development. I cannot say that the report card for the government is very good with respect to the latter, which is precisely what this motion is about.

I suspect from reading the cards here, when most of the elected politicians in the province of Quebec support this motion, which challenges the government's decision to leave to its own devices the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions in the province of Quebec, it is very clear to me that the debate has been lost by the Conservatives, particularly those Conservatives from Quebec who should realize their time has come and that the majority of people who represent the province of Quebec will not support a government that cuts aid to regional development agencies.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for the time you have allocated to me to debate Motion No. 288, presented by the Hon. member for Sherbrooke.

First of all, it is obvious that the deterioration of the global economic situation requires us to help the regions of Quebec even more aggressively.

Needless to say, then, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec needs to play an even more significant role.

Small and medium businesses and communities made their needs clear during the regional tours by the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec). Our government has been able to put a number of measures in place thanks to our exhaustive consultations throughout Quebec and Canada, and our keeping our fingers constantly on the pulse.

The findings on those tours confirmed our opinion that the NGOs are important allies of the SMEs and the communities in their economic development and diversification efforts.

On March 18, the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)was therefore able to announce that he has loosened up the funding for certain NGOs in the economic sector.

Our government is, however, a responsible government and it is important that we ensure that the taxpayer's dollar is being carefully managed, especially in these difficult times.

This is why our new approach to the funding of non-profit bodies active in the economic development sector is set up as follows: It is for a period of two years; the funding is for those NGOs that are deemed by the community to be essential, and is related to the financial capacity of the agency; there must be a real demonstration of need by the applying organization; the objectives must be translated into concrete results or funding will be cut back or terminated; there must be rigorous accountability to the government.

This announcement was greeted very positively by the stakeholders. For instance, Mayor Labeaume spoke of how delighted he was with the Government of Canada's decision to create a new policy on the funding of NGOs in the economic sector.

I would also like to remind hon. members of the reaction of Raymond Bachand, Quebec's Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade to the announcement:

Today's announcement demonstrates that the federal government has recognized the important contribution to the economic development of Quebec of the not for profit economic organizations. Not for profit organizations will again have access for a period of two years to federal government funding, an essential complement to the action of the Government of Quebec. The economic vitality of Quebec is unfolding, day after day, thanks to the work of these economic leaders.

Canada Economic Development’s mission is to focus on regional economic development and support for small and medium-size businesses.

In addition to the assistance we give not-for-profit organizations with an economic mandate, we provide direct assistance to small and medium-size businesses in Quebec through consulting services and financial help.

Canada Economic Development also encourages regional business circles and the organizations that support them. As my colleague from Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière mentioned in the first hour of debate, we have announced a number of measures to assist the economic development of the regions and thereby help the people and communities located there.

For example, I would like to mention that, through the community futures program, our government made a total contribution of $31 million in 2008-2009 to support the operations of 57 community futures development corporations, or CFDCs, 10 business development centres, or BDCs, 14 community economic development corporations, or CEDCs, the community futures development corporation network in Quebec, the joint CFDC fund, as well as all the not-for-profit organizations with an economic mandate.

The CFDCs, BDCs and CEDCs provide a variety of local development and business assistance services in the regions of Quebec.

The CED minister recently had the pleasure, thanks to agreements reached with the joint CFDC fund, of announcing the implementation of the business startup and succession fund to stimulate the Quebec economy.

This fund has a $6 million budget to help small and medium-sized businesses located outside the major urban centres to develop at particularly critical points in their growth by facilitating their access to risk capital.

The CED minister also had the pleasure of announcing the envelope allocated to the business support fund, whose initial $8 million budget was increased to $9.6 million.

As a result, slightly more than 90 small and medium-sized businesses outside the major urban centres in Quebec received financial assistance to meet their needs for working capital.

We also understand the importance of tourism to the economic development of Quebec.

That is why the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) has announced $30 million over three years to renew the funding agreements with the regional tourism associations, commonly called ATRs in Quebec, the sectoral tourism associations, called the ATSs in Quebec, which, we could point out, are not-for-profit organizations with an economic mandate.

Our government uses the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec as a conduit for providing financial assistance to the tourism industry to help it work together to improve tourism products and marketing and to support major projects to attract tourists from outside Quebec.

We also announced recently that the criteria for applying for financial assistance had been eased to help the tourist accommodation industry in Quebec.

It is evident that our government is out there in the field, working together with all the economic players in the regions because it is only with their assistance that we are able to help communities diversify their economies.

Together we will become stronger and more prosperous, in Quebec and in Canada.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today in this House to offer my full and complete support to my riding neighbour, the member for Sherbrooke. I want to point out just how important it is for Motion No. 288 to be passed by this House in order to ensure the economic development of the regions of Quebec.

With the way the Quebec economic model has developed, not-for-profit organizations have played and will continue to play a central and crucial role. To my way of thinking, it is clearly the duty of this House to do everything to ensure the survival of the not-for-profit economic development organizations. It is our role as parliamentarians to ensure that these bodies have all the resources and means they need to carry out their role properly. For these reasons, I enthusiastically support Motion No. 288. I am totally convinced that funding for not-for-profit organizations must be fully restored.

As we know, the Bloc Québécois firmly opposed the cuts affecting the not-for-profit bodies funded by the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. These cuts threaten the economic model developed by Quebec over decades. The Bloc therefore calls for an immediate, integral and indefinite return of funding for these not-for-profit organizations through the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

It is important to understand that these not-for-profit organizations are bodies helping small and medium business to innovate and to explore outside markets. Over time, they have become an essential link in the local economic fabric in many regions in Quebec.

Surprised by the defensive response to its initial decision to cut funding to the not-for-profit organizations, the government issued a guideline that took effect on November 22, 2007. The minister at the time reiterated his intention to abolish funding of the operating costs of the ongoing activities of the organizations, but offered them a transition period ending March 31, 2010. However, in order to obtain this temporary funding, a not-for-profit organization had to put forward a serious transition plan showing how it intended to replace the agency’s financial assistance for its operating costs after that date. The wording was condescending and arrogant, members will agree.

All other projects with any hope for funding had to be ad hoc in nature, of limited, well-defined duration, and directly in line with CED priorities. As these priorities are not explicitly defined, we can be sure that the government wanted to provide funding piecemeal to specific projects probably selected arbitrarily and on the spur of the moment according to the whim of the minister on a given day. We call this a narrow and simplistic view of regional economic development.

That being said, while the new guideline provided no economic advantage to the people of Quebec, it did provide political advantages to the government and the minister. But in reality, people did not buy it. The future of many organizations was in doubt. Organizations such as Montréal International, PÔLE Québec Chaudière-Appalaches, the Technopole maritime du Québec, based in Rimouski, the Technopole de la Vallée du Saint-Maurice, the Wind Energy TechnoCentre in the Gaspé and the Centre de recherche Les Buissons in Pointe-aux-Outardes will all be in danger if these grants stop coming.

Whatever the size or focus of the individual organizations, most were created out of the desire of the regions and the Government of Quebec to support promising small businesses and help small and medium-sized businesses invest in innovation and explore foreign markets.

For several years, Quebec's regional investment strategy has been based on the development of distinctive industrial sectors. Thus, Quebec has focused on the development of marine sciences in the Lower St. Lawrence region, the wind power industry in the Gaspé, and aluminum processing in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Also, Quebec has based its development policies on the growth of networks of centres of excellence. These research centres, subsidized in part by Economic Development Canada, are working in these niche areas in partnership with small and medium-sized business. For some of these organizations, funding from the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec made up as much as 50% of their budgets. For example, the corporation providing technological support to small and medium-sized businesses in eastern Quebec and on the North Shore stands to lose the $400,000 in support it used to receive every year.

Many ongoing or upcoming projects may have to be postponed or cancelled for lack of funding. The fact is that this measure is a direct threat to the operation and very existence of some of these organizations involved in regional development.

Many large and small economic stakeholders in Quebec have vigorously condemned this measure, which would eliminate all direct subsidies by March 31, 2010. For instance, the Specialty Vehicles and Transportation Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, the Quebec Aerospace Association, the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, the Fédération des Chambres de commerce du Québec, Sous-traitance industrielle Québec and the Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec sent joint letters of protest to the minister on February 28 and April 1, 2008.

This decision is equally objectionable to the Government of Quebec, which helps fund those organizations. Thus, in an interview with Radio-Canada, the Quebec minister of economic development, Raymond Bachand, took a clear stand against the minister's decision, describing it as ideological and disdainful.

On June 10, 2008, Quebec City's mayor, Régis Labeaume, spoke out publicly against the minister's initiative during a joint press conference with Raymond Bachand, Christian Goulet, vice-president of the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce, Paul-Arthur Huot, president and CEO of PÔLE Québec Chaudière-Appalaches, and Jean-Yves Roy, president and CEO of the National Optics Institute. The City of Montreal has also expressed its opposition to the minister's decision.

Faced with such an outcry, the Conservative government did a bit of a turnabout by unveiling, in March 2009, CED's “new policy” concerning not-for-profit economic organizations in Quebec. This policy, which was presented as a new initiative created by the government, merely restores, partially and temporarily, the program that was cut in April 2007.

I took note of the minister's about-face, which will mean that not-for-profit organizations will once again be able to rely on federal support for their current operations, but I have serious doubts about the associated terms and conditions.

First of all, the “new” funding is for a probationary period ending March 31, 2011. Having already announced in 2007 the possibility for not-for-profit organizations to extend their funding until March 31, 2010, this is in reality just another extension of one year only. Upon expiry, these organizations will find themselves back at square one, with no funding, and hence possibly in danger.

What is more, only 52 of the 200 Quebec not-for-profit organizations that were eligible prior to November 2007 will be able to apply for temporary federal support. In other words, three-quarters of the development agencies are being abandoned right away.

The obvious conclusion is that this latest government announcement is little more than a smoke screen, a way to stifle the criticism erupting from all parts of Quebec against the elimination of funding for these not-for-profit organizations. The real solution, the one proposed by my colleague, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, is to restore funding for non-profit economic organizations and immediately pass Motion No. 288.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am truly very happy to have the right to reply. I would like to start by saying that I was very pleased to represent the Bloc when the motion was tabled.

We must ensure that these not-for-profit economic organizations survive. They are creatures of Quebec in that Quebeckers have implemented measures in their regions for their development, as they should, based on their natural and human resources. They also have a certain way of doing things that may be different than that in other regions of Quebec and Canada.

These organizations play a crucial role in their communities and also in terms of economic development. The Government of Canada should stop jeopardizing the economic development model that Quebec wants to adopt. Various economic players are involved in the regions and there are others whose influence extends beyond their own region. In a context of globalization, small businesses are flourishing thanks to the efforts made by these organizations. These small businesses carry out more research in certain sectors and are able to innovate and find important niches assuring their competitiveness in almost all sectors.

The cuts did a lot of harm. This is a sign of intransigence and inconsistency which points to the inconsistency of the Conservative government and its inability to generate real regional economic development. It has turned its back on all community stakeholders and the actors in the economy of Quebec, including the Government of Quebec and numerous municipalities.

The Liberal economic development critic, the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, has said that she will be supporting the Bloc Québécois motion. The last Liberal member to speak, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, will also support the motion to restore the funding to non-profit bodies and ensure their survival. We do not want it to stop on March 31, 2011, we want it to continue.

I am sure that the opposition members of this House will support this motion. Now we just need to convince certain Conservative members one might call extraterrestrials, or extra-Quebeckers, who, even though they actually come from Quebec, are totally denying the reality of Quebec's regional economic development. They need to be brought back to some level of realization of reality, though that seems to be getting harder and harder to do, given that they thumb their noses at everything that exists in Quebec, and often take pleasure in denigrating in the most sarcastic way all the efforts that have been made by the economic stakeholders of Quebec.

As the former member who initiated this policy told us all the time, things have a beginning, a middle and an end.

So here is what I have to say to the Quebec Conservative MPs: you had a beginning, you are in the middle, and you will meet an end if you continue to behave in the same way.