Mr. Speaker, first, I want to once again thank the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle for introducing and vigorously defending the bill which, as we all know, had reached the Senate before the October 2008 election was called. I am also taking this opportunity to thank Liberal members who have spoken so far, whether to address the first bill, namely Bill C-207, or this one, Bill C-288. I also want to thank NDP members.
The tax credit is for a graduate who, in the 24-month period that follows the date on which he successfully completed his studies, begins to hold a job in his area of specialization, in a region that is facing economic and demographic difficulties. The bill provides for a tax credit of up to a maximum of $8,000 to a young graduate, for a minimum of three years.
The purpose of this legislation is to curb the exodus of young graduates towards large urban centres, to encourage them to settle in regions to undertake their professional career, and to hire, for the regions' benefit, a skilled workforce.
The tax credit applies to an individual who, in the 24-month period that follows the date on which he successfully completed studies leading to the awarding of a recognized diploma, begins to hold a job in his area of specialization, in a designated region where he is going to settle.
At second reading, some members pointed out that the bill should be complemented by a comprehensive regional development plan. I certainly agree with this view, but Bill C-288 is a first step that will allow our regions and our regional businesses to hire and keep a skilled workforce.
I am very grateful to all those who have expressed their support here for this legislation, and to those who came to support us at various events, including the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), the Fédération de l'âge d'or du Québec (FADOQ), the Liberal member for Honoré-Mercier, and the NDP member for Churchill, who were present at the press conference organized by the Bloc Québécois to support these measures. All these stakeholders expressed their support for this concrete and effective incentive, which consist in giving a tax credit to young graduates who settle in a designated region to work there.
A similar tax credit implemented by the Quebec government has proven its worth. The program was established in 2003, which means that it is almost in its eighth year. It helps new graduates settle in resource regions, the description used by the Government of Quebec. In the first year of the program, 2,000 young people applied for the tax credit; this number has since risen to 9,000. Some regions are beginning to feel the positive effects of this program. In my region, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, migration is still negative but has almost reached zero.
Therefore, I am asking the members of this House to help our rural areas and to help our regions experiencing economic difficulties and losing population by supporting our youth. We must stop the population drain and the exodus of youth. These are two important issues in our regions. We must help develop processing industries by providing our businesses with access to the skilled labour force they need.
No one in the House would be surprised to hear me say that the regions of Quebec, and a number of regions in other Canadian provinces, are at the end of their rope and have been since long before the economic crisis. I am thinking about northern Ontario and British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. Several parts of these regions have been hurting for years. It goes without saying that a tax credit to encourage young people to settle or even stay in a region would be greatly beneficial.
Our regions are going through a real crisis and the Conservative government is not paying any attention. I hope that this time the members opposite will have a little more humility and sensitivity and listen to the cry for help coming from the regions and the young people who live there.
I am especially disappointed in the Conservative members from Quebec and even more so in the two ministers from my region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, who are very familiar with this measure that was implemented by the Government of Quebec in 2003, as I was saying earlier.
Again, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec, more specifically the hon. members for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and for Jonquière—Alma who, I repeat, are well aware of the importance of and benefits derived from this legislation and this program, to pass along the message within their caucus about the positive aspects of such a measure.
For those members who do not realize, the Government of Quebec is not the only one that has adopted such programs. The Saskatchewan provincial government has had a similar program for a few years, which gives a credit of up to $20,000 over a period of seven years.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer's report mentions five Canadian provinces—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan—that have introduced incentive measures to attract young people to regions that are experiencing economic difficulties or that are losing young people.
The bill addresses a very serious problem. Many regions are in a period of economic distress, which of course is only increasing the trend of youth out-migration. Indeed, the further we go from the main centres, the more the population is declining. Quebec, like Saskatchewan, has taken measures to stem the tide. As I mentioned earlier, other Canadian provinces have adopted incentive measures.
The exodus of youth and the depopulation of the regions are not new phenomena. However, for decades, they were offset by high birth rates. With the drastic decline in the birth rate, the challenge today is to keep these young people in the regions and to attract others to come and settle there. Time is of the essence because the trend has continued since the 1990s and the situation is worsening in several areas of Quebec and Canada.
At present, the population is declining in 6 of the 17 administrative regions in Quebec, including the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Gaspé and Mauricie. The regions need young people, especially skilled young people. With youth out-migration, the population ages faster and regions become less vital. The exodus of skilled individuals reduces the average education level of the people left behind, which undermines regions' ability to innovate. These factors affect the potential for development and could send the regions into a downward spiral that will ultimately destroy them. It is a downward spiral that cannot be stopped.
The shortage of skilled workers in the regions is not solely a matter of training. In fact, the young people from the regions are no less educated than those in the big cities. The problem is rather that young people from the regions do not live there any more. There is an out-migration of young people and skilled workers.
I would like to remind the members of the House that when the Standing Committee on Finance studied this bill, an amendment was added to ensure that this program was truly directed to the regions. Metropolitan regions with a population of more than 200,000 are excluded.
I would like each member of the House, particularly those in the Conservative Party, to take the time to study this bill closely so that they can see the positives in this measure that would help the regions and young people.