Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Toronto for speaking in favour of the bill. I would like to comment on the parliamentary secretary's statements. Earlier, he said that the bill did not make sense and had some major shortcomings, such as the fact that it includes Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I have news for the parliamentary secretary: maybe he should check his facts, because rural regions in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the ones that are really suffering. Their population is dropping faster than anywhere else in Canada.
Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said, things are not as bad in Quebec as they are elsewhere in Canada. Take Newfoundland and Labrador, for example: right now, working people are fleeing the province, headed for Toronto and the western provinces.
Unfortunately, the same is true of New Brunswick: people are moving to the western provinces. The Government of New Brunswick has made an effort to bring workers back home and stem the flow of people toward large urban centres at the expense of the province's population, towns and regions.
First, as my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle said earlier, we introduced it before. And the bill was supported by the House and by all parties, except the party in government, which does not seem to understand the meaning of regional development. The whole model of regional development has to be re-examined. In a time of crisis, especially, it is vital to ask questions and to realize that the established economic model undergoes cycles of major crisis every 10, 20 or 30 years.
Perhaps the entire model must be re-examined. Bill C-288 gives us a fine opportunity to examine where we live in this country and the governments' desire to have us live throughout the country, including in the regions.
I have heard the government talking, for example, about wanting to ensure Canada's sovereignty in the far north and especially further north than at the moment, because we must defend our territory. In the meantime, the government is allowing the regions and areas communities to be drained of their inhabitants. Rural communities are almost being left on their own.
What is the effect of the exodus of young people to major centres or more populated regions?
First, this is an entirely unique phenomenon. The regions deemed to be losing inhabitants are significantly short of skilled labour. By skilled labour, I mean doctors, nurses, teachers and other skilled people. There is a desperate need for skilled labour in very specialized areas. Unfortunately, the regions do not manage to meet these needs. In Quebec, thanks to a program of tax credits for young graduates returning to the regions, we have managed, despite problems, not to stop the exodus, but to slow it.
I have seen another phenomenon. The parliamentary secretary was speaking earlier about unfairness to major centres in that it was totally unfair for a graduate to get a tax credit for going to live in a region when a graduate from the same university not moving to a region did not. I have news for him. In order to attract doctors, among others, to the regions there are programs all across the country to encourage doctors to settle in the regions. Some provinces have even gone so far as to lower the salaries of doctors who remain in the city compared to salaries for those who move to outlying regions.
I think this is an excellent example of an initiative that has allowed the regions to seek out the minimum level of services they needed. I said the minimum level, because the problem is still not completely solved, and it will take some time before that can be done. Perhaps more rigorous, draconian measures will be needed in order to fill the positions available in the regions.
We must bear in mind that the regions also pay for training people and, like the rest of the population, people there are entitled to the same services under Quebec's health and social services legislation. That legislation clearly establishes that everyone is entitled to the same level of services to the extent possible and based on the ability of governments.
Over the past 30 or 40 years, the regions have seen an exodus to big cities. This exodus has devitalized rural communities and all the regions. Unfortunately, governments have not done enough to respond to this exodus. I would like to talk about the regional development model. We should think about what Scotland and the Nordic countries like Norway are doing to populate the land and encourage people to return to the regions. I am referring to deconcentration, but not decentralization. Decentralization has been used in the past to allow governments to offload the services they no longer wanted to provide. Although they offloaded services, they did not necessarily transfer any money to all the provinces. People are therefore a little skeptical when it comes to decentralization. Additional powers have been dumped on the regions, although they were not necessarily given the financial resources or money they needed to fulfill their new responsibilities.
The model used in the past was a model of concentration. Governments concentrated their administration in the capitals. Unfortunately, this model is still prevalent. Our review of cuts to the federal public service since 2004 indicates that 80% were made in the regions. While the number of public servants was increasing significantly in Ottawa, federal jobs in the regions were being eliminated. I am not saying that it is any different at the provincial level. I do not have any statistics, but I am convinced that, in the provinces, there is a strong tendency to concentrate power in each capital. Today, with the communication techniques at our disposal, it would be very easy to deconcentrate responsibilities to the regions. It is not just a question of decentralizing but also of deconcentrating the government administration so that public servants have as much contact as possible with the population of Canada and Quebec.
If we continue with our current approach to regional development, it is obvious that we will not be able to stem the regional exodus and to have people settle in the regions as they should. In some countries, the deconcentration of power has lead to the economic revitalization of the regions. If a funding department is moved from the capital to a region, there is a strong possibility that companies will establish themselves near the department in question because it gives money to businesses.
To conclude, in my opinion, it is very important for this bill to pass. This could be a first step for the federal government. It does not run counter to what is happening in Quebec and could even be complementary. It is up to the each of the provinces to identify the regions it wants to benefit from the bill when it is adopted.