moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, again we are gathered to debate Bill C-288, to give every new graduate who settles in a designated region a tax credit. This bodes well, because it means the bill has passed committee stage.
In 2007, my colleague the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord introduced a similar bill, namely Bill C-207. It received support from a majority of the members in the House at all stages and even got as far as the Senate. I promise my colleague, young people and the regions of Quebec to have the same determination to get this bill passed.
To put this into context, the purpose of Bill C-288 is to give a tax credit to every new graduate who settles in a designated region. Since being introduced in the House, this bill has come a long way and has received a great deal of support.
Bill C-288 is supported by a variety of groups and generations throughout Quebec: the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, or FECQ, and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, or FEUQ, which represent 40,000 and 125,000 students respectively in Quebec; the FADOQ network, which has 255,000 members, and the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, which represents 972 municipalities. They have all given their full support to the bill. What is more, the bill is supported by a number of RCMs, chambers of commerce and youth employment centres.
In addition to this sizeable support, last November the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I delivered 3,000 postcards in support of Bill C-288 to the office of the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. Contrary to what some people have suggested, these postcards were indeed signed by people who are affected by the bill.
I would also like to thank the representatives of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec who came to show their strong support for Bill C-288 by testifying before the Standing Committee on Finance. I greatly value their support because, in a way, this bill is designed for the thousands of students and graduates who will move out of large urban centres to go live and work in the regions.
The main purpose of this bill is to attract young graduates to the regions in order to help solve two main problems: the exodus of young people and the serious shortage of skilled labour. It is important to encourage young graduates to settle in the regions, where they will start their professional careers, and to recruit skilled labour for the benefit of the regions.
The exodus of young people is becoming increasingly problematic in terms of the economic vitality of areas that are far from large centres. These areas need young graduates in order to develop and to enhance their ability to innovate. Obviously, giving recent graduates who settle in regions a tax credit of $3,000 per year—up to a three-year maximum of $8,000—would help revive local economies and meet labour needs.
The exodus of young people has a negative impact, both socially and economically, on any region. It speeds up population aging and reduces the average education level of the people left behind, which undermines the region's ability to innovate. The more remote regions are losing the most residents. In many cases, they depend on one type of industry; these are called single-industry regions.
Gone are the days when resource regions could prosper based solely on extracting natural resources for primary processing elsewhere. In order to grow, the regions will have to look to technology and develop their processing industry more.
Quebec was hard hit by the forestry crisis. Since 2005, Quebec has lost 26,000 jobs in the forestry industry alone, that is, the industry and related services, such as transportation and logging equipment. This represents 50% of Canada's total loss.
Since the Conservatives came to power, about a third of all forestry jobs have disappeared. Some regions have been decimated. Since the summer of 2004, my region, the Upper Laurentians, which has been hardest hit by the crisis, has lost 58% of all forestry jobs in Quebec.
Of the 17 forestry companies in my riding, 14 have been forced to close their doors. Heavy machinery operators, engineers, technicians and truckers have borne the brunt of these job losses. Those with higher levels of education, special skills and expertise, such as engineers, have been forced to leave our beautiful region to find work in their fields.
The Government of Quebec realized that to promote regional economic diversification, it would have to develop new business opportunities in other fields.
This is a major hindrance to the development of secondary industry and high-tech. In all of the studies that have been done, many companies have said they would only be able to stay in their region if they did not grow very much. So long as businesses stay small, they can take care of professional and technical work themselves. If they grow, they have to hire skilled workers. Difficulty finding such workers in the regions might force companies to relocate to urban centres, where they are more likely to find qualified workers.
Bill C-288 proposes a beneficial tax measure for all young eligible graduates in Quebec and Canada. Quebec is not the only province experiencing a youth exodus. Across Canada, economic activity has gradually moved from more rural regions to larger centres. Some provinces—Quebec, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba—have introduced a graduate tax credit. The Quebec government introduced its credit in 2003, then amended it, so that it now resembles the tax credit proposed in Bill C-288, which I am talking about today.
The Conservatives tried to derail the debate on this bill by grossly inflating the cost of the program. In his November 24 report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer assessed the proposal according to a number of different scenarios. I would like to clarify some of the data so that members can focus on the essence of the bill.
First, the regions designated in this bill will be determined by the Minister of Finance, after consulting with the provinces involved. Second, the regions will not be designated based on the number of people who would be affected; they will be based on the needs identified in these regions far from Canada's major cities. I should point out that the bill excludes metropolitan regions with more than 200,000 residents. Third, the bill must focus on resource regions and regions with low rates of urbanization that are struggling with long-term unemployment rates, an indicator of poor employment prospects.
Finally, we used economic and health regions as geographic criteria. We then used the long-term unemployment rate to determine the regions where job prospects are more difficult—4.7% and up in 2006. From these regions, we considered only the regions that had over 12% of their population living in rural areas.
In total, we identified 34 health regions that met these criteria, representing 8.24% of the Canadian population. According to the estimates of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, such a measure would cost around $230 million per year, rather than the $600 million claimed by the Conservatives.
Of course, other regions could be added during the discussions between the federal government and the provincial governments, but these regions will have to meet the requirements of the bill, and have a high long-term unemployment rate, combined with a low rate of urbanization or a low population density.
Adding a few regions that meet the above criteria would not substantially increase the cost of the bill.
We still want the support of Liberal and NDP members for this Bloc Québécois initiative. We hope that Conservative members will put aside their partisan ideology and act in the interests of young graduates and the regions.
I believe that many young people who are about to complete their post-secondary education or professional training are waiting for this bill to pass. A number of my colleagues have probably had exploratory visits from young graduates. These young people are in contact with community stakeholders, the decision-makers, and are in a position to determine the regions' needs and to tell us what kind of labour force is needed in our regions to develop secondary and tertiary processing.
The bill creates many expectations. It provides an incentive for attracting youth back to the regions. However, young people who are interested in returning are also interested in the quality of life they may find there. A young person who moves to the region may start a family. Families add vitality to a region.
As I stated earlier, this time I hope that the Conservative members, especially those from Quebec—in particular the members for Pontiac, Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma—as well as the independent member from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier will understand that they must put their regions' interests ahead of their party's interests in order to support all regions of Quebec and their young people.