Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I take part in this third reading debate on Bill C-46. Since my colleague for Saint-Henri-Westmount said that Quebec is a province, a region that cares more about existential issues than about job development, I rise to examine sections of this bill which provide precisely for job creation and development.
At this third reading stage, I would like to go into the details of the regional development concept. I want to base my speech on two distinct approaches, which are the key factors of the regional development problem in Quebec.
The dynamic policies of regional development in Canada are based on the concepts of growth and development. Both these concepts continually bring the central government in Ottawa into conflict with Quebec and its regions: it is the Quebec government versus the centralizing Canadian federation.
Let us ask ourselves what regional development is really about. First of all, let me remind the House that Canada is composed of four main regions: the West, Ontario and Quebec, in the heart of the country, and the Atlantic Provinces. Each of these four regions has its minister responsible for regional development. What should be examined is the impact the concepts of economic growth and development have.
In its 1989 report on social and demographic development, the social affairs council describes its approach as follows: "Growth is a quantitative measure of the increase in a society's wealth." That is how the increase in the gross domestic product per capita, for example, is presented. "Development implies a kind of growth that does not create inequality and is aimed at giving all individuals, wherever they live, the same opportunities for fulfilment." This is a major difference between the two concepts of growth and development.
In this perspective, regional development originates in each of Quebec's regions and is based on a dynamic of balanced economic growth among the regions. The member for Saint-Henri-Westmount knows Quebec very well. He knows that there are sixteen regions and that regional development means a balance among these regions. This notion of development versus growth underscores the federal government's approach with regard to regional development.
Indeed, given how all the federal government's regional development policies have evolued over the last 40 years, one can say objectively that the federal system has favoured growth as measured by economic output over development and the structural changes it involves.
The economic dimension, that is favouring a particular area or industrial region in order to stimulate Canada's gross domestic product, is clearly given priority over the structural dimension in most of what the federal government does in the regions. This approach, this federal involvement in regional development, will have an extremely detrimental effect in the long run on the development of our regions, in Quebec. That is the point I want to make.
I would like to start by reviewing a number of Quebec's demographic characteristics tied in with the economic problems faced by peripheral regions. Let us keep in mind that Quebec's share of Canada's population has been eroding steadily, down from 30 per cent at the beginning of the century to 25.8 per cent in 1986. The problem in Quebec is due mainly to the acceleration this trend. It took exactly 70 years from 1901 to 1971, for its share of the total population to decline two points but a mere 15, from 1971 to 1986, to drop two more.
In the regions, it has dramatic effects and the federal government's regional development policies are partly responsible. In Quebec, more communities are loosing population than growing. In Quebec, more regions are declining than growing.
Between 1971 and 1986, the number of young people in communities with declining populations fell by 43 per cent and that of adults by 9.5 per cent, while the number of seniors increased by 24 per cent.
Over the same period, in communities with growing populations, however, the number of young people remained more or less the same, while the adult population of childbearing age increased by 49 per cent. This means that when they leave their community, young adults take with them their reproductive potential, causing a further decrease in the birth rate.
The communities, mostly in peripheral regions, that experienced a substantial decline in population between 1971 and 1986 are also those with the highest rate of unemployment. Basically, a decline in population spells social problems.
In April 1994, for example, the rate of unemployment in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands was 27 per cent; in the Lower St. Lawrence region, 17 per cent; in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, 15 per cent; in the Laurentians, 16 per cent; in Lanaudière, 16 per cent. An analysis of rural depopulation over a 15-year period shows that people are moving to major centres of economic growth with significant impact on Canada's Gross Domestic Product, which determines smaller communities and regional development in Quebec.
This is demonstrated by a historical overview of federal involvement in Quebec's regional development and the impact of these policies on Quebec's dynamics in this area.
In the 1960s, despite some valid initiatives, federal efforts as a whole lacked a global development strategy and co-ordination among the various departments involved. The departments operated sector by sector, each pursuing their own goals, without co-ordinating their actions regionally and correcting regional disparities. In the early 1990s, this attitude became a trademark of the federal government's regional development efforts in Quebec.
The Liberal government's current dismantling of VIA Rail networks in the regions shows that this Crown corporation did not receive the mandate to promote Quebec's regional development. There is only one criterion: profitability and economic growth and not regional development and people's well-being.
Such an attitude to regional development threaten the infrastructure of outlying areas, speeds up the depopulation of outlying municipalities and aggravates regional underdevelopment.
Let me give you another example: The disappearance of local post offices and of some local CBC TV stations shows the same disregard for regional development and the priority given by Ottawa to profitability and sectoral economic growth. There is a lack of global vision. They are busy saving the furniture while the house is burning down.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the need to co-ordinate the federal government's regional development initiatives in Quebec led to the creation of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion. The department focused its efforts on several economic growth centres, hoping that their development would extend to disadvantaged regions.
At the same time, the Higgins-Martin-Raynauld report commissioned by the department, on which the federal government's new regional development policies are based in part, concluded that Quebec's economic difficulties lie in the weakness of its only growth centre, Montreal.
The purpose of the study which led to this report was to define the main development objectives for the province of Quebec, simply from the perspective of territorial development. What this report has to say about the approach to development is important. It says that growth centres have an attractive force that drains human, financial and managerial resources from the outlying regions and that this process feeds on itself. The policy is to invest in the major centre and bring people, money and resources in from the outlying areas. Some kind of development! How can you be more centralizing?
Further on, the report says that no territory can become a development centre unless it was first a satellite-so it must have grown-and that being a satellite should have no pejorative connotation because it is the only way to strengthen a territory's competitiveness. That is the federal approach, philosophy and thesis for developing Quebec.
Further on, the report says in the same vein that much more important today are the innovations related to technological progress, concentrated in the relatively large and dynamic cities which are the centres of development. As far as this report is concerned, and it remains an important document in the evolution of federal policies and of the Liberal philosophy of regional development, even though the report is old, Quebec's economic future will be mainly determined by the competitive position of Montreal compared to the economic space dominated by Toronto and other regions dominated by big cities elsewhere in the world.
Unfortunately, the Government of Quebec is just as ignorant about some outlying communities and at times even denied their existence.
Influenced by the liberal line of thought which promotes megaprojects and seeks to build momentum for economic growth, sometimes by expanding large urban centres, the Quebec government decided, in the mid-sixties, to concentrate in regional centres the public services provided by various institutions, so as to reinforce the natural poles of economic attraction. At that time, a Liberal government was in office in Ottawa, while another Liberal government was controlling Quebec's destiny. The growth of Quebec cities over the last 15 to 20 years
would have been stronger without this concentration of public services in natural poles of economic attraction.
Unlike communities which did not provide such services and which experienced a decrease in population, the centres offering these services experienced a population increase. So, the development of some 16 Quebec regions, that is the structural planning of fringe areas, necessarily included the setting up of important services, as well as the development of a stable economic infrastructure adapted to the need of the community for a dynamic economic activity of its own, generated by local people instead of being subjected to the remote interests of a centralizing pole.
Again, the influence of this liberal and centralizing federalism is responsible for the delicate situation of most remote regions in Quebec, as well as for their demographic and socioeconomic underdevelopment.
The seventies saw the emergence of general development agreements between Canada and Quebec, the second generation of ERDAs which, incidentally, will expire a week from today, on December 14. However, these agreements all suffer from the same deficiency, that is the lack of a development policy based on eliminating the structural problems which impede regional growth. This problem is an inherent part of the federal regime, which helps maintain and even increase regional disparity, and which also jeopardizes the evolution and the survival of a whole nation.
The unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was, to a degree, a form of federal interference in regional development.
This was undemocratic, since Quebec has yet to endorse the Constitutional Act of 1982. It was a show of force against Quebec, by the federal Liberals and their friends from the other Canadian provinces, to increase, among other things, the federal spending power in Quebec, so as to control its regional economic development. In the eighties, Ottawa increased its interference in regional development matters, thus showing more clearly than ever its enormous potential for developing parallel structures and for generating duplication, which costs Canadians and Quebecers dearly, and which also accounts for their indebtedness.
This disastrous federal policy on regional development in Quebec continues to apply. The Department of Regional Economic Expansion was replaced by the Department of Regional Industrial Expansion. They are very good at inventing new structures and duplicating what has already been done. DRIE was to focus industrial policy on economic growth strategies. Unfortunately, and this was to be expected, the department was dominated by sectoral concerns, so that industrial development got more money than regional development.
Today, legislation to establish the Department of Industry is about to be adopted. We are now on third reading. Bill C-46 provides that the Department of Industry has the power to "initiate, recommend, co-ordinate, direct, promote and implement programs and projects in relation to regional economic development in Quebec". In other words, the department will go on investing and having an impact on regional development in Quebec, but its activities will not be part of a comprehensive approach to deal with the structural problems of the regions.
The federal government should withdraw from regional development in Quebec, since it tends to ignore the process for the development of regional structures, initiated by Quebec and its regions through its regional county municipalities, its regional development secretariat and its regional economic development councils. As a result, the federal government has a negative impact on regional development in Quebec and on the general development of Quebec's potential.
In Bill C-46, the federal Liberal government has irresponsibly ignored Quebec's clear-cut and traditional claim to sole jurisdiction over regional development. Furthermore, with its total lack of concern about duplication and overlap, the federal Liberal Party helps waste public funds, and it has done so by creating and putting in place structures that Quebec has already had for more than 20 years.
The approach taken by the federal Liberal government, with its two-fold obsession with developing the industrial centres of Quebec's metropolitan areas while ignoring the rest of the province, and with spreading the federal centralist gospel right and left, without a co-ordinating policy, has not only proved to be disastrous for the development of the regions but in many cases has been an obstacle to Quebec's attempts to decentralize socio-economic responsibilities to the regions.
As a distinct society, Quebec has a creative and innovative potential for regional development that, in terms of its perspective and emphasis on long-term solutions, goes well beyond anything the federal government has been able to do in the West, Ontario, Quebec or the Maritimes with its regional development policies.
In response to invasive federal policies and intent on saving Quebec society from regional underdevelopment and eventual cultural assimilation, since the two go together, in 1979 Quebec passed the Act respecting land use planning and development, Bill 125, and created regional county municipalities. These regional centres were to become a vehicle for involvement at the grass roots level.
In Quebec, decentralization of decision-making powers, together with a planning approach that differed substantially from
the federal government's growth policies, were subsequently seen as essential components of a regional policy for the year 2000.
At the same time, in an unprecedented spirit of planning and development, the Government of Quebec divided its territory into 16 administrative regions. These are strategically important to Quebec. They are based on geographic, economic, industrial and cultural components in which we find the only real actors responsible for Quebec's development. And this is something that the federal government cannot and does not want to understand, because acceptance of the principle of decentralization is fundamentally at odds with the federal Liberals' idea of centralization that has come straight from Trudeau.
Regional county municipalities, or RCMs, are groupings of municipalities with a combination of economic, cultural and social activities reflecting their proximity, and the movement of people to the places where they work and live. Administrative regions have called upon these RCMs to define development thrusts setting forth the whole range of problems being experienced by these regions with respect to employment, and social, educational and cultural development.
These diagnoses were used to develop a strategic plan for each RCM. The government in power must listen to and recognize the work already accomplished through the expenditure of public money, and the investment of resources and skills.
Take the example of the Eastern Townships, a region that includes seven RCMs. These local bodies analysed and pooled their strategic development plans, and then gave priority to the major development thrusts and development projects, in line with the regional decentralization policy of the Quebec government.
These priorities, which are determined by the particular environment, reveal areas where correction is required, where development is indicated. Thus, by promoting the development of human resources, training and manpower, research, technological development and the linkage of businesses, the decisions made locally have an influence on the economic development of the whole country.
We have to go back to the real make-up of the country, beyond the administrative regions, and focus on the sub-regions and the local communities, assess successes and failures and rethink development. That is what the Parti Quebecois and the Bloc Quebecois have being working on in their joint plan for a sovereign Quebec. Regional economic development must be coupled with a social development policy to provide every citizen with an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential in a healthy and challenging environment, wherever they live in this huge area. A growing majority of Quebec players, we hope, will be able to pull along in their wake all of Quebec, and Quebec society, through its regional players, fully supports the decentralization proposal put forward by the new Quebec government.
So, at the third reading stage of Bill C-46, the Bloc Quebecois, the Official Opposition, objects to the domination exercised by the Department of Industry and the powers assigned to the minister, relating to regional development in Quebec. We definitely denounce the new powers and duties of the Minister of Industry to formulate and implement policies, plans and integrated federal approaches in Quebec, as stated in Clause 9( a ) of the bill.
We also denounce the power to lead and co-ordinate the activities of the government of Canada in establishing co-operative relationships between various agencies of the government of Canada and Quebec. The government has the gall to have the legislation provide that the minister may deal directly with certain bodies in Quebec, going over the head of the Quebec government and National Assembly, and going as far as identifying municipal bodies, which come under provincial jurisdiction. Incredible!
This bill shows how stupid and wasteful it is to want to interfere like that, further compounding duplication and overlap.
Essentially, Bill C-46 reflects the federal government's resolve to take over regional development in Quebec and set it in a Canadian perspective of economic growth and efforts to bring the federal deficit down, a perspective that greatly hinders the enfranchisement and development of the people of Quebec.
The only option acceptable to us is the structural development of our regions through the decentralization program developed by the new government of Quebec. It is therefore by leaving the current federal system that we will achieve our goal as a society, a society destined to really develop structurally, all over its territory, and one looking towards the next century and open to the world.
The Official Opposition's position on this bill is no to the federal government and yes to Quebec.