moved that Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by giving credit where credit is due. I must thank my colleague, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, for all the work he did during the 39th Parliament.
Bill C-207, which he introduced on October 16, 2007, was supported by a majority of members of the House at all readings and even made it to the Senate.
Now we are back with Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), and I promise my colleague and young people in the regions of Quebec that I am just as determined as he was to get this bill passed.
I would also like to mention the role played by the government members representing Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—the members for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma. During election campaigns, federalists like to go on and on about how the Bloc Québécois is useless and does not have any power. But in this case, my two Conservative colleagues proved to their voters that being on the side in power is always bad for the regions of Quebec.
When the Conservatives voted against the old Bill C-207, they denied young people access to a tax credit they could have used as of this year's tax return. Conservative members from Quebec proved that their party line is more important than their regions' needs.
Once again, these members have proven that those who are members of governing parties in Canada tend to close their eyes and forget about standing up for the people they represent. This time, I hope that Conservative members from Quebec, especially the members for Pontiac, Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma, as well as the independent member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, will recognize that they must put their regions' interests before their party's interests. I hope that they will support Quebec regions and the young people who live there.
It will come as no surprise to anyone in this House that the regions of Quebec, like many regions in other Canadian provinces, are in the midst of an economic crisis, and they were already struggling long before the current financial crisis hit. Northern Ontario and British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island are all regions that have been struggling economically for a number of years.
The lumber crisis that has been affecting many places for over five years now, a crisis that the Conservative government has done virtually nothing to address apart from handing out a few scraps, was the first indication of the deteriorating economic situation. Meanwhile, the auto and oil and gas industries are rolling in billions of dollars. Our regions are going through a terrible crisis that the Conservative government is completely ignoring. I can only hope that my colleagues across the floor will show a little humility this time by listening to the cry for help from the regions and the young people who live there.
The regions are in a period of economic distress, which of course only increases the trend of out-migration from the regions. Indeed, the further we go from the main centres, the more the population is declining. It feels as though Quebec is shrinking. The central regions, where people live within 150 km of Montreal or Quebec City, are faring better than the outlying regions. Some places are beginning to feel the devitalization, with the exodus of young people and the aging of the population.
Youth out-migration and rural depopulation are not new phenomena, but for decades, they were counterbalanced by high birth rates. With the drastic drop in the birth rate, the challenge now is to keep our young people in the regions and encourage even more to settle there. Time is of the essence, because this trend has continued since 2002 and the situation is getting worse in some places.
At present, the population is declining in six of the seventeen administrative regions in Quebec: Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Côte-Nord, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Mauricie (except for Trois-Rivières) and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. For residents of the Saguenay, a yellow bus filled with young people leaving the region for Quebec City and Montreal every week is the symbol of this decline. Given the statistics, I ask myself how my Conservative colleagues from this region can justify opposing Bill C-288.
My area in particular—from Ferme-Neuve to Notre-Dame-du-Laus, Mont-Laurier, L'Annonciation and Labelle—has been hit hard by the forestry crisis over the past four years.
Every day young graduates leave before they start a family. A region that loses its young people is condemned to certain death, in the medium or the long term. To make matters worse, the departure of a young person often sets off a chain reaction and many more young people leave their regions.
Young people who leave the regions to study in Quebec City or Montreal will establish ties, friendships and a network. It is more likely that, at the end of their studies, they will be more inclined to settle in their new environment rather than returning to the regions where they grew up. That is even more likely because, depending on where they came from, it is very likely that a good number of their friends have also left the region and moved to a major centre. I personally know a number of families who have been affected. The parents have quickly decided to follow their children so they will not be too far from their grandchildren. I ask you, what is left when a region loses its youth and its baby boomers?
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.
Regional economies were traditionally based on the extraction and primary processing of natural resources such as wood and ore. These sectors require a large, but unskilled and uneducated workforce. Since outlying regions have few openings for skilled workers, young people with post-secondary education often leave the regions for the city and stay there, because they cannot find suitable work in their home region. 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.
It is often said that one reason for the problems outlying regions are facing is the fact that people there do not tend to start up businesses, but this is completely false. There are as many business start-ups per capita in outlying regions as in central regions. Today, a number of entrepreneurs are looking to lengthen the production chain by marketing products made from the resources they are already using. Others are using their expertise in raw material extraction to produce specialized equipment or are creating businesses in fields that have nothing to do with natural resources, such as fibre optics in the Lower St. Lawrence, video lottery terminals in Gaspé, diamond cutting in Matane or plastic parts in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
In 25 years, outlying regions' dependence on the primary sector decreased by half. There were nearly four times more processing companies in outlying regions in 2001 than in 1975. In Abitibi-Témiscamingue, only 11% of jobs were in the primary sector in 2001, compared to 24% in 1975. In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the rate declined from 10% to 6% over the same period. On the North Shore, it went from 19% to 9%.
The trend is certainly real but inadequate. In terms of jobs, these companies are still not managing to recoup the revenues lost in the resource sectors. Compared with those in the rest of Quebec, processing companies in the outlying regions are clearly growing less quickly and have lower survival rates. Even though companies in the regions have certain advantages—the lower cost of land, their proximity to resources—they also face difficulties that are peculiar to them.
One of these difficulties is the lack of skilled labour. There is less of it in the regions than in the big urban centres. This is a major hindrance to the development of secondary industry and high-tech. In all the studies that have been done, many companies said they would only be able to stay in their region if they did not grow very much. So long as the business stays small, they can do the work requiring professional or technical skills themselves. If the company grows, they have to hire skilled workers and the difficulty of finding them in their region might force the company to move.
The federal government is not responsible for education and workforce training. However, 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. The federal government could help solve this problem without interfering in any of Quebec’s jurisdictions. That is the purpose of Bill C-288.
I want to turn now to the purpose and effects of the bill. Its principal purpose 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. The bill gives a tax credit to young graduates who settle in a resource region and take up a job there. According to the current wording, this credit would be 40% of an eligible graduate’s salary in his or her first year in the region, up to a maximum of $8,000.
As the Province of Quebec has shown, it is, once again, more in touch with the regions' needs and realities. In 2003, Pauline Marois, then-finance minister in the Landry cabinet, introduced a similar tax credit. Since then, the program has been very popular and has delivered excellent results. In 2003, the first year it was available, over 2,500 young people benefited. In 2004, that number rose to 10,000 young people per year and has remained at that level ever since. Over 1,200 young people have come back to Abitibi-Témiscamingue, over 1,600 to the lower St. Lawrence, over 800 to Gaspésie—Îles de la Madeleine, over 1,000 to the north shore, and over 4,000 to Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
The tremendous increase in the number of young people who benefited from the program during its first and second years suggests that some 7,000 young people would not otherwise be living in the regions of Quebec. That means that 7,000 young people would have taken their first jobs in Montreal or Quebec City instead of in the regions, and would have started their families in an urban centre instead of in the regions. One of the big reasons they decided to settle in the regions is Quebec's tax credit, a measure that cost the province only about $30 million out of a $60 billion budget, or about $5,000 per young person.
My colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I toured eastern Quebec during the week of March 16, 2009, to raise public awareness concerning Bill C-288. That tour has clearly shown that this tax credit is very necessary and very welcome to the local elected officials and all the groups we met. Whether in Chicoutimi, Escoumins, Forestville, Baie-Comeau, Matane, Trois-Pistoles, Rimouski or Rivière-du-Loup, not one regional stakeholder we met with indicated any objection to this Bloc Québécois initiative. Every single one of them talked about the advantages of the tax credit put in place by Quebec and they all fervently hope that Ottawa will bring in such a tax credit. Once again, the Bloc has shown that it is very much attuned to the reality of Quebec and the relevance of the Bloc cannot be disputed.
During our tour, we met with Carrefour jeunesse emploi representatives, leaders of student organizations, mayors and municipal councillors, MLAs and MPs, representatives of local development centres, regional conferences of elected officials, chambers of commerce, unions, the UPA, representatives from youth round tables, youth homes, youth employment centres and many others, and they all expressed their unwavering support for our initiative.
In closing, I would like to ask all members of this House to study Bill C-288 carefully, and to think about the future of the regions of Quebec and Canada. The estimated cost of this measure, $270 million, is very minimal compared to the potential benefits for the future of our young people and our regions.