House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iran.

Topics

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #186

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:16 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business, as listed on today's order paper.

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

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

moved that Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-309 once again. For those members who may not be all that familiar with it, Bill C-309 proposes to establish a permanent agency for regional development for the residents of northern Ontario. The existing government program, FedNor, falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Industry who can essentially cut the program's budget or completely withdraw it without warning. It is important to note that, when the previous Liberal government was in power, it never threatened to eliminate FedNor's funding.

In fact, in 2005, the Liberal government increased FedNor's annual core funding to $51.9 million. Unfortunately, when the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they hastily cut nearly $7 million from FedNor's annual funding, and tried to make Canadians in northern Ontario believe that, somehow, they would receive more money than ever before.

At the time, the industry minister announced that the Conservative government would extend the FedNor program by five years, but that its annual budget would be reduced to $45.5 million, resulting in a loss of $6.4 million for the program.

In an attempt to justify this 13% budget cut, the minister claimed, incorrectly, that the 2005 FedNor budget was set at $45.5 million with an additional $6 million going to the new Northern Ontario School of Medicine. In fact, government records clearly show that the $6 million provided for research facilities and equipment at the school in 2005 was above and beyond the $51.9 million annual FedNor budget guaranteed by the Liberal government.

My constituents and residents through the region were not fooled by the minister's shell game. Rather, the people of northern Ontario felt betrayed by the Conservatives, and with good reason. The Conservatives are masterful at playing politics of division. They love to pit different regions across the country against one another rather than offering everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.

As the member of Parliament for Nipissing—Timiskaming and a resident of northern Ontario, I can say that FedNor is of tremendous value to the people of the area. This funding is essential in creating jobs and strengthening our regional economy.

The cuts speak volumes to the priorities of the Conservative government and its vision for the future of Canada.

In 2005, the northern Ontario Liberal caucus worked very hard to raise FedNor's stable base funding to ensure that FedNor could undertake longer term strategies for the development and growth of the northern Ontario economy.

My Liberal colleagues and I continue to recognize the importance of making sound investments in people, knowledge, modern infrastructure and a sound and efficient financial sector in order to provide the foundation for global success. We are also committed to ensuring that the people of northern Ontario are given every opportunity to develop and maintain a strong regional economy, as well as diversify and strengthen their employment base. Bill C-309 is a critical means to that end.

It is worth noting that other regions of the country have regional economic development agencies that report directly to a minister of the Crown, thus serving their needs. I firmly believe that the residents of northern Ontario deserve the same privileges and services that these agencies provide to other Canadians.

The Conservatives will argue that the establishment of a permanent FedNor agency will do nothing more than create more bureaucracy and cost more to administer the existing program. For instance, in his remarks during second reading of the bill, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration made the bogus claim that establishing a permanent regional development agency for northern Ontario would limit FedNor's ability to contribute to other economic development initiatives in northern and rural Ontario.

I will pause a moment to reflect on this assertion. Are we really supposed to believe that making FedNor a permanent agency, one that cannot be subjected to cuts or outright termination, would somehow limit the organization's ability to administer necessary funding to projects throughout northern Ontario?

The people of northern Ontario will not be taken for fools by the Conservative government.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, the NDP will argue that the Liberals had the opportunity to establish a permanent FedNor back when they were in government but they had made no effort to do so.

In 2005, DEQ, the provincial economic development counterpart to FedNor in Quebec, was converted from a program to an agency. While we were in government, the NDP and the Conservatives teamed up together and brought down the Martin government, killing the opportunity for FedNor to become an agency then. They also killed many other programs that would have been very beneficial to us and which the Conservative government does not believe in.

Therefore, in light of the substantial FedNor funding cuts that have already been made by the Conservative government and facing the possibility of more cuts again in the future, we must take action now.

Let us begin by discussing the difference between program and agency, which is a question that is often asked. Technically the words “program” and “agency” have no effect under Canadians law. What separates FedNor from other regional development agencies is that each of its counterparts has an act of Parliament establishing it as a separate entity and outlining its mandate and powers, while FedNor does not.

The legislation means the federal government requires the consent of Parliament to change or alter the agency's powers or its mandate.

Currently FedNor's performance and financial reports are included in a chapter in Industry Canada's reports on plans and priorities and departmental performance reports. We call it a chapter, but it is a couple of pages, if that, and is very meagre and difficult.

If made a separate agency under the Financial Administration Act, FedNor would be required to file detailed financial and performance reports for tabling in Parliament. The reports on plans and priorities would outline the agency's objectives, programs, spending plans and departmental performance reports, which evaluate whether the objectives have been met and provide details on previous spending. Again, I want to point out that this is non-existent with the program.

While a separate agency generally requires its own corporate services and communications divisions to provide human resources and public relations support, FedNor already has its corporate services and communications divisions. If it were turned into a separate agency, creating these divisions would not be an issue.

Since my bill was first introduced, it has gained support and endorsement from many municipalities throughout northern Ontario. They obviously believe, just as my Liberal colleagues and I do, that FedNor should become a permanent regional economic development agency.

My constituents continue to ask me why the Conservatives are abandoning northern Ontario.

A number of regional development agencies are already at work: the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

The 2009 budget announced that two more agencies would be created: the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and a new economic development agency for northern Canada. Every region of the country now has its own regional development agency. Every region, that is, except northern Ontario.

In the case of northern Ontario, it is left up to the Minister of Industry to look after FedNor. As it happens, the minister in question hails from Toronto, which further demonstrates how out of touch this Conservative government really is when it comes to addressing the needs of northern Ontarians.

Northern Ontario is indeed a unique region that represents unique economic challenges. Residents in northern Ontario are not looking for government handouts. We are looking for funding that will help us build infrastructure that will allow us to maintain the same standards as large urban centres.

Bill C-309 is not about creating more bureaucracy. It is about having people on the ground who live and work in the region, who are best able to assist municipalities, rural communities and not-for-profit organizations to build a robust local economy. Bill C-309 is about equality, fairness and a strong and sustainable northern Ontario. It is about northern Ontario standing up and being treated as an equal in Canada.

In my previous remarks on Bill C-309, I emphasized the fact that Canada was not one homogenous entity. Different regions face different challenges. They have different growth rates, different strengths, different weaknesses. Each region is unique and deserves special attention so it can flourish and allow its residents to provide for their families and to live a decent and prosperous life.

I still believe the Canadian federal government and regional economic development agencies, in particular, have an important role to play in maximizing the potential of each geographic region in our country. In order to maximize the potential of northern Ontario, in particular, we must focus on future investments. I highlight this because, as a separate agency under the Financial Administration Act, FedNor would be required to file detailed financial and performance reports for tabling in Parliament.

I have asked the minister for these reports a number of times while in industry committee. Each time he promises them but they never come because he does not want to show them. He does not want to show what he has been doing with FedNor.

The reports on plans and priorities would outline the agency's objectives, program spending plans and departmental performance reports, which evaluate whether the objectives have been met and provide the details of previous spending.

Being able to review the agency's estimates would allow parliamentarians to take a closer look at the list of proposed funding and activities that are being planned and managed for the upcoming year so we have a better understanding of where the economic development is being directed. As it stands currently, because FedNor is a program and not an agency, the spending details become lost as part of the budget of Industry Canada. This means that there is very little spending information and no breakdown of activities.

In fact, if we take the time to visit the existing FedNor site, we will notice that only certain spending announcements are posted and those that are contain very little in terms of specific project details. Furthermore, unlike an agency, reports for a program can only be seen at year end. Because it takes another six to eight months for those numbers to be published, that means it is generally a full year or more before we are really able to assess whether the investments that have been made are effective and being directed in the right areas.

An example I have used before is it is much like driving a car and concentrating on the rear view mirror. We cannot really look to the future when all we can see is behind us.

With regional economic development, we really have to look ahead and see where we will go and where we want to go in order to find the kinds of programs that will get us to that place.

Interestingly the Conservatives are the only party that fails to see the logic and usefulness of Bill C-309. It is time they stopped treating the people of northern Ontario like second-class citizens. At a time when every region in the country has its own economic development agency, there is absolutely no excuse not to have one for northern Ontario, where we face so many economic challenges.

I would urge the Ministry of Industry and his Conservative colleagues to reconsider their opposition to Bill C-309 and give the people of northern Ontario the support and respect they deserve.

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

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming has brought forward an excellent bill. It would go a long way toward stopping the federal government from treating northern Ontario like a second-class citizen and instead treat us like a colony. The provincial and federal government have to get beyond that and give us the resources and support we need to live up to our potential.

The member will know that I consulted widely on this bill at one time. One question I was asked was how we defined northern Ontario. The only difference in the bill I championed a couple of years ago and my colleague's bill is the definition. My bill suggested that northern Ontario start and end at the French River and the Mattawa River. My colleague has chosen to include Parry Sound—Muskoka in the catchment area as the areas that would be affected by the bill if it goes forward.

Why did my colleague make that decision?

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

February 16th, 2011 / 6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for all the consultation he has done on this bill. He has been a great proponent of it.

Parry Sound—Muskoka is included now in the region so there was really no reason to change it. Economic development is not about pitting one region against another. The member's bill basically separated Parry Sound—Muskoka from the rest of northern Ontario. I leave that to the Conservatives. They can start wars.

This bill is about economic development. We need help. Help should go where it is needed, not to somebody's preferred area, not to somebody who wants to pit one region against the other. I know the hon. member means well. He put forward a very similar bill, but it pitted one part of northern Ontario against the other.

This bill is about working together, not about working against each other and using our resources to bring each other down. We have to build together.

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

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am delighted I will have a chance to speak to the bill later.

I have heard criticism from the government that seems patently absurd on the face of it. It has been asserted by the government that creating this new agency might increase costs and lead to a loss of jobs. It does not make any sense to me.

Would the member comment on that?

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

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his support of this bill. He comes from eastern Canada and people in that region understand what a difference ACOA makes there.

The Conservatives are asserting that the cost will go through the roof. That cannot be further from the truth. All the setups, all the organization, the HR, the communications, are already there. All the areas are already in place.

The only difference is the minister can wipe it out without consulting Parliament. He can change the funding. He can pork barrel and put it into his riding. The minister can do whatever he wants with this. This is a play toy for the minister and we have to stop that. An agency would at least control what the minister does with those funds.

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

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, as my previous colleague mentioned, this is basically the same bill he tabled in the House. We certainly support this bill.

The member mentioned a while ago how the NDP brought down the government, but the government really brought itself down. It was the people of Canada who decided they did not want the Liberals in power. The Liberals have a long record of failing to deliver on much of what they propose and I know this for a fact. If we had a responsive FedNor, and this is why we support the bill, Hornepayne Town Centre would not be closed to the public. As opposed to having a functioning town centre complex, Hornepayne received a white elephant.

Once this bill passes, is the member concerned about whether the unelected, unaccountable Senate will see fit to pass it?

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

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, in spite of some of the comments she made, I want to thank the member for her support.

A fear that we do have is that if the bill does make it to the Senate, and there is no guarantee that it will because we have a Conservative government that does not want to see fairness for northern Ontario, I do not know what direction the Prime Minister will give the Senate. We know that the senators basically do what the Prime Minister tells them to do.

It is an unelected Senate, not what the Conservatives had promised, and the senators take their orders from the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's Office.

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

6:35 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, it sounds as though we are all getting along up in northern Ontario.

I have been reading the book, Unrevised and Unrepented II, and I was thinking, have I just heard one of the great speeches out of northwestern Ontario? If I had, I think I would probably call it, “If Only”: if only the Liberals had stayed in power longer, we would have had a national daycare; if only they had been in power, they would have had a national home care program; if only they had been elected, they would have made FedNor an agency. I see the policy trajectory here and frankly, I am not impressed.

What I am impressed about is getting back from Thunder Bay this morning after hearing people across northern Ontario and northwestern Ontario talk about the great work being done by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, HRSDC and our highly coveted program, FedNor. They are responsive, effective and efficient in every way.

In fact, I have heard it across northern Ontario. I have been busy making announcements in co-operation with and on behalf of our Minister of Industry who is responsible for FedNor, who has done an outstanding job. It has been a great honour to travel to small towns and cities across northern Ontario on his and our government's behalf to make great announcements to that effect.

Obviously, coming from the great Kenora riding, I am happy to have this opportunity to discuss the implications of private member's Bill C-309, a bill to create a new federal agency aiming to administer economic development programs exclusively to northern Ontario.

There is no question that communities in northern Ontario continue to face challenges that affect the stability and development of their economy, both in the short and the long term.

This great part of our country certainly deserves the support of the Canadian government. I am pleased to report to this House that it has had that certainly within the last two and a half years in an unprecedented way.

I am proud to say that FedNor has been leading the way for years. I am pleased to hear the support from the member for Malpeque because, on a daily basis, FedNor staff are working with a diversity of people in communities in an effort to build a stronger and more prosperous northern Ontario. They include business leaders and professional groups in the areas of tourism, transportation, telecommunications, resource industries, small business, and research.

It appears the intention of my hon. colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming, in tabling this bill, is to ensure that the government would provide the support that northern Ontario needs to continue to emerge stronger than ever and be a vital part of Canada's economic engine. What he chooses to ignore is that FedNor is already providing this support through its main programs, which are the northern Ontario development program and the community futures program. Imagine that. People from northern Ontario are making decisions about their local economy and the northern economy.

I think I have heard this before in years and decades gone by. The Liberal government then and the Liberal Party now in a paternalistic way just decides what is in the best interests of people across Canada. The folks in northern Ontario reject that. They simply do not accept that.

I would like to point out the remarkable work accomplished by FedNor through the northern Ontario development program (NODP). I hope that by learning more about the role of FedNor, my colleagues will better understand what this organization represents to the inhabitants of this region. FedNor does much more than just fund individual projects in the many communities it serves.

When community partners, leaders and stakeholders identify opportunities for development, they come to FedNor with their ideas and their proposals. FedNor staff are closely connected to the communities they serve and know the challenges and needs of those communities. We should let those folks continue to do their job.

When approached with project ideas, our great FedNor staff across northern Ontario work with the proponents to ensure how best to meet their needs, not having an Ottawa-centric Liberal Party telling us what is in the best interest of northern Ontario.

The FedNor folks consider the benefits of specific projects on local, regional and pan-northern Ontario scales, 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 northern Ontario. At the same time, FedNor keeps an eye on the bigger picture, the Government of Canada's national agenda.

In 2009-10, the northern Ontario development program's annual grants and contributions budgets totalled more than $36 million. I will explain how FedNor is using this budget successfully to grow the northern Ontario economy.

First, I will provide some general information. NODP serves a very vast area. Northern Ontario represents about 90% of the province, extends from Muskoka to James Bay, and borders on the provinces of Manitoba and Quebec. More than 850,000 people live in this magnificent part of Canada.

The vastness of northern Ontario cannot be understated. Its relatively low population helps explain some of the challenges it faces, such as geographic isolation from large urban areas and markets to the south, and limited telecommunications and transportation infrastructures which, under Canada's economic action plan, are under a major overhaul.

I was in Thunder Bay not too long ago making an announcement for more than 25 isolated remote first nations communities that will be getting state-of-the-art broadband service to connect literally with the rest of northern Ontario and Canada. This is something that was never done under the vision of the previous administration of the Liberal government.

We have a high youth out-migration rate and lower than average employment growth. FedNor's Ontario development program is working to address these issues and more.

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 concrete example is FedNor's successful youth internship program. For more than a decade, FedNor's flagship youth internship program has provided nearly 1,300 young graduates with valuable job experience. Designed to help post-secondary graduates make the transition from the campus to the workplace, the program provides interns with hands-on experience and opportunities to find full-time employment at home in northern Ontario. The internship program also assists small businesses and not-for-profit organizations that are looking to grow.

Recently, FedNor has been charged with administering the northern Ontario components of the Government of Canada's community adjustment fund. This program was strong enough and good enough to administer the community adjustment fund, as well as the economic development initiatives for official language minority communities. With such capacity being so sensitive and responsive to the communities of northern Ontario, there is no bureaucracy or further expense required. FedNor's flexibility and its ability to deliver programs, such as the economic development initiative and community adjustment fund, are what make FedNor so important.

In short, Bill C-309 aims to create a new entity to do what FedNor already does through the northern Ontario development program. The bill is redundant. It is bureaucratic and it is paternalistic.

I appreciate having been allowed the time to speak on the impact of FedNor's northern Ontario development program and the great FedNor program that is working wonderfully in northern Ontario. We have heard that from mayors and councils, stakeholders and proponents. We are rebuilding downtowns across northern Ontario. We are investing in economic stimulus and job creation programs.

While the opposition member claims to have the interests of northern Ontario at heart, why on earth is he ignoring the north's plea to do away with things like the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, increasing taxes and EI premiums?

Now the opposition wants an unnecessary election. Having travelled across northern Ontario extensively over the last five or six weeks, I can certainly assure members that no one I have spoken to across northern Ontario is interested in that.

Northern Ontarians deserve better. That is what they are getting from this Conservative government. That is what they are getting from Canada's economic action plan. That is what they are getting from FedNor.

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

6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on this bill, especially since this is my maiden speech in the House of Commons as Bloc Québécois critic for regional development.

From the outset, I should say that we are in favour of Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario. This new federal body’s mission will be to promote and develop Northern Ontario, just like the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec does in Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois stands up for Quebec’s interests. It is in this spirit that we previously voted against Bill C-9, an Act to create the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois, just like Quebec governments for the past 45 years or more, believe that to formulate an integrated regional development policy, Quebec must be master of its own regional development programs.

The regions are the ones with the solutions. There are organizations in Quebec dedicated to regional socio-economic development. They are capable of effectively advising the minister regarding regional needs and of overseeing program implementation. One need only think of the Centres locaux de développement, the CLDs, and the Conférences régionales des élus, the CREs. It is for these reasons that the Bloc Québécois has consistently been in favour of decentralization in this area.

We know that not all governments share the same priorities, and despite instances of flagrant encroachment in the past, should the government of Ontario decide to favour this kind of organizational structure for its regional economies, the Bloc Québécois would be very hard pressed to oppose it.

In 2009, the government created the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. There is still no equivalent agency for Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario does have FedNor, an equivalent program that essentially shares the same objectives as an agency. The main difference however is that FedNor is the responsibility of the Minister of Industry, who can amend its budget as he sees fit. Agencies, on the other hand, are independent and have ministers of state, as is the case with the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

In actual fact, the reason for creating the economic development agency of Canada for the region of northern Ontario is to transform the FedNor program into an agency that would then be more independent of the government’s budgetary decisions, as currently exists in Quebec and in other regions served by agencies.

The Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario or FedNor has existed since 1987. Its purpose is to encourage economic growth and diversification and the generation of jobs and incomes in northern Ontario by providing support for private sector projects.

Even though the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill, a regional development strategy necessarily includes such diverse things as natural resources, education and training, municipal affairs, infrastructure and settlement of the land, which all fall under provincial jurisdiction. In fact, the Constitution makes the provinces responsible for most of the issues involved in regional development.

From 1973 to 1994, there was a framework agreement between Quebec City and Ottawa. Both governments had to agree, or else Ottawa could not do anything. Most federal government funding passed through Quebec agencies. But since 1994, the federal government has been acting unilaterally.

No more co-operation with the Government of Quebec. No more respect for its priorities and the priorities of the regions. This is very unfortunate and even unacceptable.

Following the passage of Bill C-9 in 2005, the federal government appointed a minister responsible for the regions of Quebec. The result has been more quarrels between Quebec City and Ottawa, more duplication, more confusion, a federal government obsession with raising its profile in the regions, and most of all, less respect for the priorities of Quebec and its regions.

Ottawa should stop interfering in Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction and instead start working together with Quebec on determining all federal economic priorities that have an impact on Quebec, while taking into account the economic development priorities of the regions.

Having seen how obviously ineffective the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec actually is, we wonder what use such an institution would be for northern Ontario. The Bloc Québécois would like to warn the Ontario government of the possible harmful consequences of the federal government's integrated, centralized approach.

Take a concrete example. In April 2007, the then Minister of Labour and of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec announced a measure that was heavy with consequences for local groups, such as not-for-profit organizations, working in the area of economic development. He eliminated their grants. Here is an excerpt from the Jonquière newspaper, Le Quotidien, of April 28, 2007:

The Economic Development Agency of Canada will no longer provide operating funding for non-profit organizations that work in economic development and will no longer fund pure research.

However, these non-profit organizations play an important role for small and medium-size businesses. They support innovation and the development of international markets. They have become an essential link in the local economic fabric in many regions in Quebec.

As a result of increased pressure by many economic stakeholders in Quebec, the federal government reversed its decision to some degree by creating a new policy concerning non-profit organizations and partially restoring some funding for those organizations. In fact, nearly a quarter of the non-profit organizations that had received funding in 2007 could reapply.

The Bloc Québécois fiercely opposed cuts to the non-profit organizations that had been subsidized in part by the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and were active in the economic sector. This absurd situation calls into question the economic development model that Quebec has been requesting for several decades. Since it is an inappropriate measure that is extremely prejudicial to the economic fabric of the regions of Quebec, it could result in the loss of some jobs in local communities.

I would like to close by saying that the Bloc Québécois does not oppose the will of the Government of Ontario and that we support Bill C-309.

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

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise as my party’s critic on FedNor, and as a lifelong northern Ontarian.

I would like to speak to Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario. New Democrats have always led the charge on the need for an independent regional economic development agency for northern Ontario.

This bill is in fact based on the previous bill by my NDP colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie. I want to take a moment to commend my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for his unrelenting commitment to the social and economic wellbeing of northern Ontario.

During debate on this bill, we have heard some poignant reasons why northern Ontario needs an independent economic development agency, including its geographic span and sizable population, the fact that an independent regional economic development agency is a proven way to support regional economies, and the fact that northern Ontario is the only significant region not served by an independent regional economic development agency, just to name a few.

Currently, we have the following independent regional economic development agencies in Canada, each with their own legislated mandate: the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Canada Economic Development for the Regions of Quebec, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. The latter two agencies have been recent developments—brought forth by this federal government.

So we cannot say Conservatives do not believe in the effectiveness of regional economic development. I fail to understand, though, why this government did not set up an independent FedNor when it set up an economic agency for southern Ontario. I can only conclude that the government either has total disregard for northern Ontarians and has little confidence in our ability to function independently in our own best interests, or the industry minister enjoys having the control over decision-making for FedNor. Maybe it does not support an independent FedNor for all of these reasons.

I also want to stress that it would take very little to turn FedNor into an independent agency. FedNor already has a director general, many of its decisions are already decentralized and made locally, and it has offices throughout northern Ontario.

All we require here is political leadership. And clearly, we have none coming from this Conservative government.

In fact, the industry minister has provided ample evidence why FedNor should be a stand-alone agency, independent of his political interference. From pork barrel funding around the G8 and G20 summits to the cancellation of the long form census for purely ideological reasons, the minister responsible for FedNor has shown that he is not above petty partisan politics.

This bill warrants the full support of the House. It is a good bill in that it specifies an independent mandate for FedNor, its powers, duties, functions and reporting mechanisms. It ensures that in the future the federal government will require the consent of Parliament to change or alter the agency's powers and mandate, and it defines the geographical area of northern Ontario as comprising the following 10 ridings: Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Kenora, Nickel Belt, Nipissing—Timiskaming, Parry Sound—Muskoka, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Thunder Bay—Superior North, and Timmins—James Bay.

New Democrats have consulted stakeholders in northern Ontario and the sentiment is the same across the board—they agree that FedNor should be an independent agency.

New Democrats have a vision for northern Ontario that goes way beyond this bill. We see the role of FedNor as aiding our communities in their pursuit of economic diversification, as well as cultural and linguistic promotion.

In order to spur the necessary growth, we need to keep our young people in northern Ontario. Too many communities, including our first nations, are suffering from youth out-migration. Young men and women are educating themselves and becoming creative entrepreneurs and caring professionals, but the lack of growth in many small communities is causing them to head south to larger urban centres.

Northern Ontario is as beautiful as it is unique. In fact, our region was a source of inspiration for Canada's famed Group of Seven painters. However, part of its uniqueness is that we have small communities that are geographically distant from one another. We have few large hubs of economic activity. As a result, our communities face challenges, ranging from their accessibility by bus and rail to infrastructure needs, such as roads, clinics, hospitals, to government services.

I share these challenges with you to highlight the fact that our region needs an effective economic development agency staffed and led by local professionals and entrepreneurs who understand our unique needs.

People often say back home that Ottawa does not understand us. And while many of my colleagues from other parts of this great country hear the same thing, it does underscore why FedNor needs its independence.

This government's cabinet includes champions for every regional economic development agency.

What confounds me and my New Democratic colleagues is the stubbornness of the government in refusing our region of northern Ontario an independent economic development agency of its own.

I look forward to other members of this House making the same point, as well as this bill succeeding at third reading.

I wish to conclude my remarks with a few words of caution for my Liberal colleagues.

While I sincerely appreciate the effort of my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming, I want to remind the House that the Liberal Party has a long-established history of sounding like New Democrats in opposition and then acting like Conservatives in government.

It is crucial that my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming secures the unequivocal support of his party for his private member's bill. We do not want the Liberals developing memory loss if they ever find themselves on the other side of this House. Northern Ontarians' needs have long been ignored by successive Liberal and Conservative governments.

However, it is amazing to watch what happens when New Democrats are elected. With the strong team of northern New Democrats in this chamber, one thing is for sure, that one of the best ways to ensure that the interests of northern Ontarians are defended and promoted is to continue electing New Democrat members.

We will continue to fight for what is best for our communities, and we will continue to promote our region and advance ideas that strengthen our future and our children’s future.

We cannot stand by and watch our communities struggle with out-migration. One of the best ways of getting started is to put in place the right tools and systems. An independent FedNor would be a good start.

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

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak tonight to this important bill, Bill C-309, put forward by my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming. This is an important piece of legislation brought forward by an important and fine member of Parliament. I had the pleasure of being elected to this House in 2004, and since that time I have pretty much sat beside the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming. I have seen how hard he works, how seriously he takes his duties and how connected he is to his community on a whole range of issues.

The bill tonight speaks to that commitment to the community of northern Ontario. The importance of regional economic development agencies in general must never be underestimated. Canada is such a vast country, diverse both in terms of culture, ethnography, geography and in every other way.

From region to region, Canada is different and from one province to the next, and even within provinces. In the province I come from, Nova Scotia we have Cape Breton, the Annapolis Valley, the French Shore in Southwestern Nova Scotia and we have Halifax-Dartmouth. The legislation should reflect those differences across Canada but even within regions.

I want to speak from my own experience with our regional development agency, ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and its value to Atlantic Canadians. I believe the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming would acknowledge that ACOA is a pretty good model. The bill we are talking about today in some ways can trace its origins to the work that has been done by ACOA.

ACOA has done so much good work. One of the key things is it has recognized that Atlantic Canadians are smart and innovative people who have ideas they want develop and market. One of the things that was missing is that Atlantic Canada is not a haven of venture capital.

The Liberal government looked at ACOA and asked why not use this as a way to spur innovation and research so that Atlantic Canada can grow not only now, but for generations to come?” The Atlantic innovation fund was set up. I want to acknowledge Senator Moore. He is still in the Senate and is one of the people who came up with this idea, the rising tides document that came out around 2000 and led to the introduction of the Atlantic innovation fund.

These permanent development agencies with stable core funding really help regions to develop economic potential that is unique to their geography and their demographics. Hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity is at risk of not being used, in other words, of going untapped.

Bill C-309 would establish a permanent and annually funded regional economic agency in northern Ontario as an essential step to building a more secure and stable economy in the region.

The member pointed out that there does not now exist a federal government program that aims to contribute to economic development in northern Ontario. FedNor falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Industry and is essentially now used as a tool, quite often for punishing and bribing of the parties concerned. It is a program, not an agency. It is constantly under threat of having its budget easily cut or eliminated altogether. That is not the way to encourage regional economic development.

Under previous Liberal governments there was never any threat to funding, so perhaps it was not as important in those days. The member acknowledged in his speech that it was not as necessary 10 years ago as it is today because of the threats, the whims, the enemies list of the government. Anything that is left to the whim of a ministerial decision, as we have seen with the minister responsible for CIDA what can happen when a minister gets piqued at something. It is gone pretty quickly.

As my colleague pointed out, the Liberal government at that time actually increased FedNor's core funding to $52 million. The fact is since the Conservatives took office, FedNor's budget has been slashed by close to $7 million a year. This bill is designed to ensure that FedNor will not be subjected to further cuts.

Some people asked why did the Liberals not do it? My colleague answered that question. It was not necessary then, perhaps it might have been useful. If we had anticipated that the Conservatives might be coming in, perhaps we would have done that to protect northern Ontario.

In short, the bill seeks to promote economic development, economic diversification and job creation in communities throughout northern Ontario. As an agency, as opposed to a simple program, FedNor would demand greater accountability and will be required to report to Parliament on a regular basis.

Right now, each of its counterparts as a regional development agency has an act of Parliament establishing it as a separate entity. This legislation would mean that the federal government requires the consent of Parliament to change or alter the powers and mandate of FedNor. That sort of stability is absolutely essential for any initiative that aims at regional economic development.

Economic planners and communities need to be able to plan, knowing full well that they can count on an agency, staffed and mandated to be a regular partner with the region's players. To make FedNor into an agency through an act of Parliament is not only good for the region, it is good for accountability and transparency. As a separate agency under the FAA, FedNor would be required to file detailed financial performance reports for tabling in Parliament.

To conclude, let me say that this bill is not about bureaucracy, it is about accountability. It is not about politics, it is about good policy. It is not about cost, it is about benefit. It is about northern Ontario. I congratulate the member. I urge all members to support it and for the government to provide a royal recommendation.

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

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Madam Speaker, I would also like to thank the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and the hon. member for Nickel Belt.

I would also like to thank the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who is an outstanding MP. He has been an outstanding seat mate over the years. He understands what regional economic development means to all areas. Coming from eastern Canada, the Maritimes, he understands what an agency really does for that area.

I listened to what the member for Kenora had to say. He defined FedNor as what it should be and what he thinks it does. I have some emails and there is a big problem with FedNor now. I am not saying it is bad or horrible. It is doing good things. It goes through the Minister of Industry's office and sits on his desk. The Minister of Industry is a very busy man. I am not taking that away from him. He allots certain amounts of time to issues and northern Ontario is not his priority. That is the problem.

If FedNor had its own minister, it would not be a problem. The minister would take care of things. He would be the minister of state for FedNor. That is what we are asking for. It would not sit as a minor portfolio or file on the corner of the minister's desk.

The other thing the member for Kenora talked about was a paternalistic approach. Of the two members for Parry Sound—Muskoka and Kenora, one is from Toronto and the other one is from Paris, Ontario through Winnipeg. Talk about a colonial outlook. What do we have to do? Are we serfs in northern Ontario? Do we go to whoever the landlord sends out and bow to the lords who are there and beg? Those days are over. They are finished. We do not need someone from outside of northern Ontario telling us what we need. That is the paternalistic outlook that the Conservative government takes.

It is worth noting that the Senate committee on agriculture and forestry considered whether FedNor should be a separate agency during a study on rural poverty between 2006 and 2008. In the committee's final report, Scott Merrifield, FedNor's director of policy, planning and coordination, said that FedNor differs little from the regional development agencies, except for its bureaucratic status. He went on to say:

Functionally, we do pretty much the same thing as the regional agencies; but structurally, we do not have our own legislation like the other agencies do. They would have the status of separate departments, whereas we are within Industry Canada. However, we are functionally similar and do the same kind of work; our approaches are similar, but still respecting the differences of the regions.

Historically, the Prime Minister has been against regional economic development. During the 2006 election campaign, the Prime Minister repeatedly promised that he would not make cuts to regional development funding. In fact, when the Liberals predicted that FedNor would be in serious jeopardy under the Conservatives, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Industry dismissed these comments as nothing more than fearmongering.

This is not fearmongering. This is just part of the long-term plan for the Conservative government. It does not believe in economic development and FedNor is not being converted to an agency because it will be easier for the government to get rid of it down the road. I urge all members to vote in favour of this important bill.