Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this debate. I commend my colleague from Cumberland--Colchester for putting forward this private member's business. It should probably should be the subject of a take note debate in the evening because this is a subject of interest for all of us who come from rural Canada.
I listened to my Bloc colleague and he is correct in saying that it is long overdue for action. We talk about it continually. A lot of us here cut our teeth at the municipal level and from our own experience it is very frustrating when we see population decreases.
My riding of Dauphin--Swan River has lost about 8% of its population. We are very much an agriculture based community. We are basically primary producers. We are not like Ontario which gets the benefit of the production of the farms in rural Ontario. In Ontario the farmers benefit from the farm gate to the kitchen table. They have it all and they get all the jobs that come with it. Where I come from the poor farmer just grows the crop, the grain disappears, the product disappears and there is no value added.
We have talked about this for years. It is pathetic that not more is being done. I disagree with the Alliance member who said it is time to do things differently, that they do not believe in grants. That is right; they do not believe in grants or transfer payments, but they speak from the point of view of a province that is oil rich. It has population growth and lots of jobs. I am speaking from the point of view of a province which is population poor. I would not say it is resource poor, but it is population poor. We tend to lose all of our population. Manitoba and Saskatchewan are very similar.
The only way to reverse the trend of depopulation of communities in rural Canada is to have jobs. People need a reason to go back to rural Canada. It has to be more than the phenomenon I see in southern Ontario where people live around the cities. They work in the cities on weekdays and on weekends they rush out to Ontario's cottage country. That in itself creates other problems in terms of infrastructure and resources.
Depopulation will literally kill our small communities. We are losing all of our students to the larger centres. Students from rural areas are disadvantaged because they have to pay for room and board besides their tuition fees when they go to universities in the larger centres. One solution would be for rural students to be educated at home. Certainly with the Internet and other technology, that should be available. I do not think it is an unreasonable expectation. Even if they were educated at home, what would come next? If there is no work, what else could they do?
I believe the depopulation has continued because of governments, provincially and municipally to an extent. For example, I was at a business opening last week and the mayor of the small community said it was the first time that a new business had hung up a shingle in his community in over 20 years. His community's population is relatively small.
The other irony is that most small communities try. They have economic development officers. The Secretary of State for Rural development and northern development in Ontario tries hard. He has had conferences and meetings throughout the country. He has met with people from the municipal level. I have even sent representatives to some of these meetings. But it is time to stop talking. It is time to put our money where our mouths are.
My party disagrees with the Alliance. We believe that government intervention is necessary because we do not have the same resources. We need value added manufacturing. My riding is probably the hemp capital of Canada, not the kind that is smoked, but the kind that is grown, pressed and made into environmentally friendly material. There is the automobile industry as well. However, the problem again is money.
There are infrastructure needs which require help from all levels of government. We need government assistance to make rural Canada attractive to bring industry into those areas so that they have a reason and a purpose to be there.
The irony is that lifestyle is a big issue today. Most people do not want to live in cities. Most of us want to live in an area where we can walk to a park and perhaps be involved in outdoor recreation within a 10 or 15 minute drive. We want to have a better lifestyle rather than living in an environment of concrete and steel. Overall the country would benefit if we reversed the trend and moved people further away from the cities.
In my province of Manitoba, the only place that is growing is around the city of Winnipeg. Unfortunately the city of Winnipeg takes in about 60% of the population of the province, but most of the growth is within an hour's drive of the city of Winnipeg. The province is a lot bigger than an hour's drive outside the city of Winnipeg.
We have to move the boundaries further north and west. Small communities and municipal leaders need help not only from the federal government but certainly from the provincial government as well. It is long overdue. The municipalities need to have more say. They need to be at the table.
One idea that came up in the last couple of weeks with the immigration minister was having new immigrants move to rural areas. I agree with him and I applaud him for that. My concern is that in the short term it may work, but after three years they will probably end up back in the cities where most of them are today. As members know, 85% of Canadians live in big cities.
The immigration minister needs to enhance and enlarge the provincial nominee program. It already is successful, but the missing segment is to get the municipalities to sit at the table and become main stakeholders. Those are the concerns I have representing the rural riding of Dauphin--Swan River.