Madam Speaker, first, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Champlain.
I am very pleased to participate in the debate on the motion tabled by the hon. member for Mercier, which reads:
That this House condemn the government for choosing to reform unemployment insurance in a way that maintains overlap and duplication in the manpower sector and thus prevents the government of Quebec from adopting a true manpower development policy of its own.
You will understand the relevance of that motion, following an almost historical event yesterday, in that a resolution was unanimously approved. Indeed, it is rare that western parliaments unanimously approve such resolutions. Yet, that was the case yesterday in Quebec City, where the three parties at the National Assembly, namely the Parti Quebecois, the Liberal Party and the Action démocratique, unanimously agreed on a resolution which provides, in part, that:
Quebec must have sole responsibility for policies pertaining to manpower adjustment and occupational training within its borders and patriate accordingly the funding allocated by the federal government for these programs in Quebec;
Within the current constitutional framework and in order to improve services to customers, Quebec must take over the control and management of various services pertaining to employment and manpower development and all programs that may be funded through the Unemployment Insurance Fund within Quebec's borders, and must therefore receive the funding appropriate to such responsibilities;
The Government of Quebec and representatives of business, labour and the co-operative sector agree to oppose any initiative by the federal government that would constitute an invasion of Quebec's prerogatives.
This is a resolution that was unanimously approved, by a vote of 96 to nil, by the three parties sitting in Quebec's National Assembly. The timing of this resolution is all the more appropriate, given a particular aspect of that reform mentioned on page 3 of the release. I am referring to the national employment service. It is said that "a modernized employment service will help out of work Canadians organize and conduct job searches. The computerized information network on the labour market will be more powerful and will tell people where they can find work in every region of the country. To that end, the implementation of an improved and universalized version of the service delivery system in Canada's human resource centres was announced in August 1995".
People in Trois-Rivières know all about the implications of that announcement. This is the other reason why I am pleased to speak today and to discuss, for the third time in the last two or three weeks, issues that plague Trois-Rivières.
These are linked to one of the aspects of the minister's reform and relate to the creation of a new national placement system. It will be centred on the Department of Human Resources Development employment centres, and in our area it has been decided that the regional administrative centre, the focal point of departmental activities in our region, will be located, not where it would normally and naturally be at Trois-Rivières, the regional capital which I have the honour to represent, but at Shawinigan instead.
This is, of course, a worthy city as well, one which knew glory in the days of natural resource development by the Shawinigan Water and Power, and is now represented as best he can by the hon. member for Saint-Maurice, the Prime Minister of Canada. The decision was made at the Department of Human Resources Development to have Shawinigan be the one to benefit from the regional administrative centre, rather than Trois-Rivières.
The question remains-since we are totally in the dark as to the reasons for this decision-was this a technocratic decision or a political one? If technocratic, it is confirmation of all of the public's prejudices against the judgment of technocrats in their ivory towers, away from life's realities, away from the grassroots, making decisions among themselves in comfort and behind closed doors. They hold meeting after meeting at which they convince each other of how justified their decisions are, without ever really worrying about whether those decisions are in the least bit rational.
If this is a technocratic decision, then we must condemn it out of hand, because it is based on absolutely nothing rational. I will offer you proof very shortly that it even contradicts the parameters set by the department itself.
The other explanation, perhaps a more plausible one, is that all-mighty, all-rational, all-giving politics were involved. That the Prime Minister might have let it be known that common sense and interest ought to prevail, including the self-interest of the member for Saint-Maurice, to ensure that the residents of his riding, with all logic, all rationality thrown to the winds, would reap the benefit of the creation of this new centre, rather than the region of Trois-Rivières, the city of Trois-Rivières, where workers are merely shuffled around, and never a job created. In fact, if memory serves, there was more than shuffling, there were cuts, with 58 positions lost due to office closures.
Whether technocracy or politics were involved, the decision is indisputably illogical and arbitrary. As I have said, it contradicts the parameters the department has set for itself with respect to creating these regional centres. The parliamentary secretary will agree there was some kind of rationale. It is never easy to make these decisions, and that is why you need certain criteria.
The main criteria when making these decisions include the population affected, the number of unemployment insurance recipients affected, the number of welfare recipients and the number of businesses and employers likely to hire people on unemployment insurance and welfare.
In each case, Trois-Rivières represents more or less twice the activity, population, number of employers and number of unemployment and welfare recipients. That is why Trois-Rivières is the regional capital. It is the largest urban area and the most important one in terms of economic activity and population in the whole region. That is why it made good sense to have and keep this kind of service in Trois-Rivières.
The department, for reasons that remain obscure, decided to locate the service in Shawinigan. The decision was not only arbitrary and illogical but also very unpopular. Since September, a petition has been circulating, signed by more than 25,000 people, condemning this decision by the federal government. Seventy agencies took the trouble to draft resolutions condemning this decision, including 40 municipalities as well as community agencies.
This case has attracted the support of the Fédération des caisses populaires and the Fédération de l'âge d'or, because the elderly become anxious when they see changes coming, while the regional federation got involved as well.
We are seeing a chorus of protests in the riding of Trois-Rivières and in the region, including Cap-de-la-Madeleine, a riding represented by my colleague from Champlain, Trois-Rivières-Ouest, in my riding, and even on the other side of the river in Bécancour, which historically has always done business with Trois-Rivières because of its location.
So this illogical and unpopular decision will have certain practical consequences. This is not about protest for its own sake. The fact is that the paperwork, under the new system, will be done by the regional management centre in Shawinigan. People will register in Trois-Rivières where the facts will be noted, without further processing. And any intervention subsequent to registration with the manpower centre, which happens in three out of four cases, according to our statistics, which always require additional processing, will be originated from Shawinigan instead of being processed in Trois-Rivières as is now the case.
The minister claims it will make no difference and will not in any way change the quality of the services now enjoyed by the people of Trois-Rivières and surrounding area. Nevertheless, we should realize that departmental investigations following registration and all appeals to the UI board of referees, for instance, will from now on, according to our information, be done in Shawinigan instead of Trois-Rivières.
Do not tell us there will be no drop in the quality of service for the Trois-Rivières area. That is just not true.
This decision is arbitrary, illogical, technocratic and political, and above all, it was made without any consultation with regional partners.
As I said before, the government has three alternatives, one being the status quo, leaving Trois-Rivières as is and setting up a centre in Shawinigan for the northern Saint-Maurice area, but the government should not locate a regional management centre in Shawinigan for the whole region, as it is about to do.