Madam Speaker, in Quebec, there is an expression which goes something like this: Since we are in a mess anyway, why not go all the way. This is unbelievable.
During the debate on the issue before us today, I heard the member for Outremont sing the praises of regional development as if there had been no regional development until he came along. I would like to remind him of three very important facts.
First, the Quebec government has been concerned with regional development for more than 30 years. The Quebec government has long demanded of the Government of Canada that it be the only one involved in its own regional development.
Let us not forget that when we came here in 1993, the Office of Federal Economic Development and the Business Development Bank of Canada already existed in Quebec and the economic development agreements had already been in existence for two decades.
The Office of Federal Economic Development was merely a division of the Department of Industry. There was no parent legislation governing it, as is the case for western economic diversification and ACOA in the maritimes, or even for FedNor in northern Ontario.
What did we do when we got here? In 1993, we immediately tried to determine who was responsible for regional development. It was a certain minister of Finance. In this House, even if we asked the government about its regional development activities, there was absolutely no decision making, no dialogue with Quebec and no answers to Quebec's very simple requests concerning regional development.
Quebec has always said to the federal government: "Just transfer the money and tax points, because regional development is our concern".
Having been asked for a while, but to no avail, who was responsible for regional development, the federal government was suddenly inspired and decided to change the focus of the industry legislation. I remember. It was Bill C-46.
This change of focus also changed all of FORD's objectives, which became directly related to the Department of Industry. For the first time, we had a real minister in charge of development. Who was it? None other than the Minister of Industry, who comes from Ontario. This confirmed that Ontario had been made responsible for regional development in Quebec.
We were slightly embarrassed by that situation naturally, so at the next cabinet shuffle, our colleague, the member for Outremont, was called upon to help the Liberals save face. Our colleague from Outremont could be seen in the windows of the 13 regional development offices, handing out Canadian flags along with the cheques attesting to the federal government's involvement in regional development. But all this was very much out of line with Quebec's traditional demands.
On this point, I would like to bring back to your attention one provision of Bill C-46. When the Department of Industry was restructured, they said it would have the authority to design, recommend, co-ordinate, manage, promote and implement programs and activities associated with regional economic development in Quebec. The Ontario minister was given the power to interfere directly in Quebec's regional development. Not only could he do so directly, but bills like those concerning the Department of Industry, the Federal Office of Regional Development and the Federal Bank contained provisions giving him the right to bypass Quebec and deal directly with stakeholders, even at the level of school boards and municipalities.
I would like to know where our colleague, the member for Bonaventure-îles-de-la-Madeleine, was when Quebec underwent a major decentralization as the result of a political choice. Let me remind him of the extensive consultations undertaken so that all the regions could participate in the development of strategic plans. In Quebec, each region has prepared strategic plans for its regional development, that way we can be certain that all regions actually do develop.
Why? Because traditionally the regional development coming from Ottawa had a tendency to be focused on the central regions. In the last decade of the ERDA, over 40 per cent of the money was invested in the Montreal and Quebec City areas, that is to say in the central regions, the reasoning being that if these regions developed, the others would benefit also. But the reverse happened. Development left the regions for the central areas.
It was always that way, because in the minds of regional development officials in Ottawa, a province is a region, it is as simple as that. In Quebec, however, we know full well, in the area of regional development, that we have five administrative regions and 95 regional county municipalities working together to channel development according to social, economic and cultural priorities. This government has always refused to acknowledge the expertise that Quebec acquired in the area of regional development.
How can the government say it has a regional development strategy when it refuses to even consider the strategies developed by the various regions of Quebec in their strategic plans.
It is not we who pushed the idea all the way to the regional secretariat, it was Minister Picotte himself, then in the Liberal Bourassa government, who said: "The regional partnership structure will extend to strategic plans, to ensure that all government departments that inject money into the regions do so in accordance with regional development plans". That is what development partnership is all about, but the federal government refused to listen.
As evidence of this, I just want to point out something, because I heard my colleague from Outremont, who deals with regional development, say that Quebec refused to sign some agreements. Speaking of agreements, I would like to remind him-I just want to relate this little anecdote because it is priceless-that we signed a regional development agreement in the summer of 1994, but that the federal government refused to sign it, using the political context as an excuse and arguing that it had just signed during that same week an agreement in another area of jurisdiction. It said that two agreements were too much.
When my colleague from Outremont says that Quebec did not want to sign, it did so according to some very clear directions. I recall very clearly that Minister Chevrette, who was responsible for regional development, and his colleague, Louise Beaudoin, of Intergovernmental Affairs, had told the government that they wanted to sign the agreement providing its implementation were
deferred by one year. They wanted all regional development policies in this agreement to fit in with regional development, regional secretariats and regional development agreements.
At that time, the finance minister and his officials rejected the agreement. If it is not signed today, it is simply because the federal government does not want to recognize Quebec's jurisdiction and continues to clearly demonstrate its determination to centralize and to subject Quebec's regional development to national standards as part of a national blueprint that does not take into account Quebec's strategic plans and the prime objectives of regional development.
That is what this government is doing in terms of regional development. All federal legislation uses this wording that gives the minister the right to bypass the regions and the Quebec government and deal directly with stakeholders.