That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take into account regional unemployment rates when establishing or expanding government offices and agencies so that regions with high rates of unemployment are considered for any new job creation.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on my motion. It should come as no surprise to members of the House that the motion should come from me, given that I represent one of the areas which has had chronically high rates of unemployment for a long time.
We are not alone in that. One of the privileges and I suppose one of the benefits of being a member of parliament is that there is a lot to learn. What I have learned over the last three years is that the chronic rates of unemployment which affect Cape Breton are not exclusive to Cape Breton. There are areas in New Brunswick, including certainly the region represented by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, which have chronically high unemployment.
For the member who is seconding the motion, the gracious member for Yukon, unemployment is no stranger to her riding, as well as regions in the north of the country, northern Manitoba, parts of northern Saskatchewan, and parts of British Columbia. In fact no region of the country is free from chronic high rates of unemployment. As we have said repeatedly in the House, the disparity between the have regions of the country and the have not regions of the country is growing immensely.
One of the ways, and it is a humble suggestion from me, I think the government could address this issue is by incorporating the motion into its decision making process. The motion essentially says that if the government is expanding a government department, if it is creating a new government department, if it is expanding an agency or creating a new agency, part of the criteria as to where that agency or department would be located would be to look at unemployment rates in areas of the country which have chronically high unemployment rates.
It is appropriate that we address the motion on a Monday. Most of us have come to the House this morning from our ridings. I know for me, when I leave the airport in Sydney, Cape Breton, arrive in Ottawa and travel downtown, and then conversely when I go home, it is a bittersweet experience because I see the tremendous wealth in Ottawa, generated and created to a large extent because of the public service in the city in that it is the government capital.
There was a time when it had to be that way. There was a time when in order for departments to run efficiently, in order for there to be a fair exchange of communication, there had to be government departments congregated in one area, and that area was naturally the capital city.
Let me tell the House a little story about what came to light for me. It was given to me in a dialogue with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and indeed with his deputy regional director. There is in my riding a radio station necessary for ship to shore communication operated by the coast guard. There was a plan afoot to move that and centralize it in Halifax. Understandably the people in my riding, the people who work in that area, were not pleased to think about having to leave their homes and locate somewhere else.
When I met with the regional deputy director he told me that if they wanted to they could navigate the ships that come in and out of the gulf and the Bras d'Or lakes from an office in Ottawa. I put the reverse to him and said that if they could do that with the technology, surely they could navigate the ships that come in and out of Halifax harbour and other harbours from this location. He began to laugh, so I asked him if I were wrong, if the technology were one way. He had a sober second thought. Maybe he is planning to work for the Senate or to be appointed, I do not know, but after sober second thought he told me I was right, that there was no reason.
We know that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in one of its reports two years ago, maybe not that long ago, recommended that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans be located on either one of our coasts because there are no fish in the Rideau Canal. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had made some errors in calculation. It was felt by the standing committee that it would be appropriate for those public servants to be located in the fishing communities to hear from the fishermen directly.
Which coast would be chosen? My suggestion would be, and the motion reads, that one of the criteria would be that the government would look at the areas of high unemployment. I say quite frankly, to have a huge department like that locate in western Newfoundland would be beneficial. I will not even be parochial here, as much as I would like to have it in my own riding. Suppose the department were to locate in Port aux Basques? Suppose it were to locate in Argentia in a community that right now is seeing its resource bases dry up? These would be welcome well paying jobs that would provide some stability in that community.
Conversely, there may be some ridings along the northern coast of British Columbia, and I am not as familiar with them, that would be suitable for the department's location. Would it matter in terms of communication? We have the technology now. That is what we are constantly told by the Minister of Industry. The new technological age allows us to sit at our computers anywhere in the country and effectively do our jobs and run our departments. If the private sector can do that, if it can be done from Ottawa to the regions of the country, then I do not see why it cannot be done from the regions to the centre.
There is another point that I would raise. Some time ago in the 1980s there was some decentralization, which is what it was called then, where the Department of Citizenship and Immigration located in my home town. It is a good thing it did, because as the government divests itself of the Cape Breton Development Corporation, as the government withdraws from other industries and as we face real economic challenges, one of the bright spots is the employees of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who are keeping the downtown core alive to a great extent. They are the people who can afford to buy lunches, buy clothes and whatnot to keep small entrepreneurs in business. If these small entrepreneurs were supplying goods to various departments they could benefit.
I had an exchange earlier in my term with the Minister of National Defence. We do have a small base in Sydney. When it came time to refurbish it, two of the local small business entrepreneurs went to the department to try to sell furniture. They were rebuffed. The furniture came from somewhere else. There was no spinoff in the local economy from that, shamefully, but had there been a fairly substantial government department or agency there is no question that it would benefit the communities.
If we do want to question that, we need only look at the cities in the country where the civil service and government expenditures laid the foundation for an economy. I am happy for the people of Ottawa, but in this city today we hear constantly of large high tech corporations locating here. They are doing so in part because there is a stable financial base here.
The same is true in Halifax in the province I come from and of Moncton or Fredericton, New Brunswick. The civil service has provided a stable economic base for investment. Frankly, the wealth being generated in some of those capital cities today by the private sector certainly would allow the public sector to move out without tremendous disruption, especially if it is a new agency or government department.
Another example is the recent announcement by the Minister of Canadian Heritage of $48 million for a national war museum. I have nothing against a national war museum but I do not know why it has to be in Ottawa. I do not know that there is any particular reason that expenditure of money has to be spent here. It provides construction and tourism jobs. It attracts tourists to a particular area. Why not look at an area of the country that proudly served by sending its soldiers, sailors and airmen over? It could be in any particular part of the country as no region has a monopoly on courage. We could look at an area with high unemployment, which made a significant contribution to the war effort, and locate that museum there. It would serve as a focal point for tourism, would provide construction jobs and what have you.
Instead, it will be yet another expenditure in this city. Just as it is completed, I suppose the the multimillion dollar renovations to the Parliament Buildings will take place. I do not know how far they will go but there are plans to create boulevards in this city, all of which are government expenditures. Since I have come to this city, I have seen the road outside my office paved three times. People in my riding would give anything for one-tenth of the paving budget alone that is spent on government buildings here in Ottawa.
If we look at how the expansion of the national capital region to Hull enhanced the economy in that particular area, it certainly shows that it can work.
I also point out that we in Cape Breton have been criticized because of the Devco expenditures. People have said that the government spends millions of dollars on the coal industry. I ask members to think about the following fact and what it would mean in their own ridings. In the city of Halifax there is something like $60 million deposited into bank accounts every two weeks by way of civil servants' pay. The civil servants do important work and heaven knows we agree with the work they do. However, if I had one-quarter of those pay cheques being deposited in my riding, it would go some lengths to offset the loss of jobs we are going to suffer when the federal government pulls out of the industry.
It is interesting to note that Canada's newest territory, Nunavut, recognized the importance of doing this kind of work. Nunavut stands out for having recognized the failure of the federal government on this front and has set out recommendations in a detailed plan outlining the priorities for the new territorial government. It is entitled the Bathurst Mandate. One of the things the new government recognizes is that if people are going to feel connected to their government, if they are going to feel that they pay taxes and should receive some benefit for that not just in services but in economic development, then one way to do that is to provide those outlying communities with government departments. As I have said, why should we not? The technology is there.
Nunavut is calling for the fulfilment of the commitments of government to deliver employment to decentralized communities. How better for a community to feel connected to the federal government and to see some benefit for the taxes they pay than to see the government spending some money in their own community?
Through partnering arrangements, the government does spend money in terms of paving, assisting provinces and in medicare. Every day in the House we have debates on whether or not the federal commitment is enough.
I will use another example, the new gun registry. To the government's credit, the registry was not located in Ottawa. The gun registry is a very real and tangible expression of government expenditures in a community.
I do not want to touch on the HRDC scandal that has occupied so much of the House's time, but instead of arbitrary criteria, what I am saying in this motion is that one of the compelling criteria in determining where those government offices should be located would not be political patronage but would be in areas of high unemployment.
It is very hard to justify, in this day and age, setting up a government agency or a government department in a city like Ottawa when we have regions in the country that have, in my particular hometown, an unemployment rate of 21% to 22%. I will not just single out Ottawa. It is also difficult to justify putting it in Toronto where there are predictions of a shortage of skilled labour. I submit that it could be a saving to the taxpayers in terms of the amount of taxes the Government of Canada would have to pay on a building with a high square footage because of the crowding and the land value in certain areas. If the buildings are located outside the major centres in areas of high unemployment there tends to be empty office buildings.
If we were to walk down the main street of Sydney Mines or of Plumber Avenue in New Waterford, I could show the government empty buildings that it could fill with a government office or agency at a fair savings to Canadians.