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House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizens.

Topics

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question is a good one. It poses a philosophical challenge in terms of thinking about what has taken place over the last few months in Windsor.

I live on Elm and University, about a block away from the Detroit River. I can look down my street and see the Detroit River. It is a multicultural, working class neighbourhood.

What is interesting is that when I walk down the street to our beautiful waterfront and look across to Detroit, Michigan, one of the buildings I see is the Rosa Parks Tower. Rosa Parks, as we know, was someone who fought for civil liberties because of the experience of hate, racism, bigotry and all those different things.

I look at the towers standing on the Detroit waterfront. It is very empowering because they have been there for many years and they signify something very special.

Rosa Parks' commitment and her dedication to fighting for some of these issues are being challenged nowadays and it is by the same country which I think has forgotten that it is not about the colour of a person's skin. but it is about the content of an individual and his or her ability to participate, to be a functioning member. More important, it is about the belief in building a country in which one should not be judged by the colour of one's skin. Unfortunately, we are seeing that in Windsor. We see other groups and organizations that will be sucked into this vortex. It is very meanspirited. It is very disconcerting, the ability to do it.

I am an Ontarian, a Windsor resident. When the atrocities were committed by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma bombing, he was from Michigan and I did not assume that anybody who came from Michigan was a terrorist. I did not assume that he represented the general population at large. I did not draw any conclusion or make any specific reference to that. I feel more of a sense of solidarity for fighting back against horrible people like that who create atrocities on all of us.

It is unfortunate what is happening right now at our border. It is not just the economic issue of people being able to go back and forth and being able to trade. There are social and cultural elements as well. We have a great symbiotic relationship with the city of Detroit which is only two miles across from Windsor in terms of the border. It is a very special relationship. I would like to see that relationship protected and enhanced.

We are seeing a wonderful revitalization of downtown Detroit. It has very special connotations for the whole nation. We play a good role on our side. However the current situation is making it very difficult and it is setting us back in many respects. More important, more people are fighting back on this issue and they will not give up because it is not about what one looks like, it is about who one is as a person.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, during consideration of Bill C-18 respecting citizenship, one element has hardly been covered until now. It is the government's authority to refuse to grant citizenship in the name of the principles of a free and democratic society.

The government is opening a wide door in the name of a principle, the principle of a free and democratic society. This principle is vague, unstructured and undefined. The minister told us that this prerogative might be used in the case of citizens who have no criminal record, but who have committed violent acts in the past.

Is there not a danger, with such a vague, soft and inadequate measure, of opening the door for the government and the minister to refuse to grant Canadian citizenship to certain individuals? When principles are mentioned, a responsible government has to define them.

Would it not have been better to define and outline what the minister calls the principle of a free and democratic society, to ensure that citizens who are entitled to being granted citizenship are not refused?

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a good question in the sense of the definition of the actual bill. There are a lot of discrepancies that can happen through its actual interpretation. It is a good point that has to be taken in mind. We have to have clarity with some of those issues. If they are not vetted through this process, it will lead to more confusion than we have seen through immigration, citizenship and the actual application process. It is something that has to be debated thoroughly with regard to the clear definitions of how things are constituted and how they will be applied. If that does not happen, the bill will fail again.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, although I had a lot to say already about Bill C-18 during questions and comments, this is the first time I have made an actual speech on this bill, which amends an existing statute, the Citizenship Act, one that has been around a very long time. It was introduced in 1977.

When examining a bill, it is important, particularly when it is a citizenship bill, to keep in mind what has gone before. We need to remember that Bill C-18 is, basically, an old bill first introduced in 1993. At that time it Bill was C-63. It then returned as Bill C-16 and today returns in virtually the same form, as Bill C-18.

The government has told us, and reminded us throughout this debate, of the importance of supporting this bill and passing it quickly. Admittedly, a bill dating back to 1977 needs to be updated, because there are imperatives and procedures that need updating and sometimes even simplifying.

The process I have just explained, and the historical background on the three bills, which died on the order paper, either because an election was called or because a new session started, demonstrate how little priority is, attached to passing a new bill and modifying the existing citizenship legislation.

Let us recall that, prior to 1947, there was no law setting out what might be called legal citizenship. Legal citizenship began with the advent of this act. What did the 1977 act allow? A number of things, but I will touch on two, one of which was reducing from five to three years the time required to qualify for permanent resident status, that is the length of time before one was eligible for Canadian citizenship.

The other important aspect of the 1977 legislation was that it did away with something which is completely unacceptable, the right to hold dual citizenship. Before 1977, a person with Canadian citizenship automatically lost citizenship in another country. The 1977 legislation provided a framework that we want to renew today.

What does Bill C-18 do? It reinforces the current citizenship legislation. Bill C-18 clarifies, according to the government, certain legislative provisions. Finally, it reinforces certain administrative procedures.

Apart from these amendments, it would be foolish to believe that the bill before us is only aimed at meeting administrative imperatives with regard to Canadian citizenship. Some fundamental elements will alter the way we do things in Quebec and the way we are planning Quebec's future, whether we talk about the citizenship oath or the lack of respect for the provisions of the civil code of Quebec dealing with foreign adoption.

We can only be critical--it is our right in this House--of this bill that is a far cry from the mandate given to us by our constituents in Quebec, namely to make sure that Canadian legislation meets future needs, but also to defend their interests.

Defending those interests means, among others, defending the civil code of Quebec. I am sure my colleague will do this in committee as I did when I was my party's critic on this issue, and as my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve did. In committee, we will defend the Civil Code of Quebec.

We will show that under the civil code of Quebec, only a Quebec court can finalize an international adoption through Quebec's Secrétariat à l'adoption internationale.

We will show that the provisions of the bill that would grant citizenship without having to go through the immigration process contravene something fundamental. To a degree, it could result in major constraints and distortions between two children adopted abroad who settle in Canada, more precisely in Quebec as compared to another province. The civil code is clear and must be enforced.

As Minister Rochon, among others, asked on March 6, 1998, would it not be better if the federal government would consider some bilateral arrangement between the Quebec government and the federal government when the time comes to grant Canadian citizenship to a child adopted abroad?

One of the fundamental principles recognized in several Canadian acts and enshrined in the Constitution is that the best interests of children should always prevail. If the federal government supports this principle, then it will agree to make some bilateral arrangement with Quebec to streamline the citizenship process for children adopted abroad.

We have several concerns about this bill. We also believe that the government is using this bill to do some nation building, as evidenced by the oath of allegiance to Canada. We would like the duties of the citizenship commissioners to be clearly defined to ensure that they remain neutral, efficient and non partisan.

Too many immigration commissioners have been appointed because of their so-called professionalism or other such qualities, but a look at their record makes one wonder. The appointment process for immigration commissioners has been called a patronage den, not only by us but by other independent organizations.

With this bill, the government has the opportunity to clarify the real role of the citizenship commissioners and ensure they are not partisan, but it refuses to do so.

This House and the study of this bill in committee will clarify the situation and the role of citizenship commissioners.

In addition, using the principle of a free and democratic society as a reason to deny citizenship is puzzling. The minister said “These are principles that will enable us to deny citizenship on rare occasions. They will apply only occasionally”.

One cannot assume that the legislative provisions of a bill will be used only on rare occasions. We cannot make such an assumption, first, because we do not know the state of affairs. Also, there is no guarantee that the government will not try to use this provision to deny Canadian citizenship to a number of people.

It is totally unacceptable, in light of these powers and the power of these provisions to deny Canadian citizenship, that the use of the principle of a free and democratic society as a reason to deny citizenship is not better regulated. As I said earlier, this is all very vague, fuzzy and inadequate in terms of direction with respect to a provision that has and could have such an impact.

Of course, we are not saying that citizenship should be granted to persons who committed violent crimes against certain ethnic or religious groups. However, we believe that these principles ought to be strictly set and regulated.

Another aspect is the citizenship oath. Each time Bill C-63 or Bill C-16 has been discussed since we came to this place in 1993, we in the Bloc Quebecois have expressed doubts about the real political will of the government regarding the oath of allegiance. We have condemned in the past oaths of allegiance that involved swearing allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. Now, the government wants new Canadians to swear allegiance to Canada.

There is reason to express doubt about this government's real motives regarding the use of this oath. Is it trying to show Canada's uniqueness? Is it trying to show that the Quebec and aboriginal peoples do not exist? These are questions we feel entitled to ask at this stage of the consideration of the bill. I am convinced that, at committee stage, the hon. member responsible for this issue will have some genuine and tough questions for officials about what this allegiance to Canada really means.

The other fundamental issue to which I must go back is the Quebec civil code. Through this bill, the federal government refuses to recognize our civil code. Since March 6, 1998, Quebec ministers have made repeated calls—orally or in writing—to ask that the Quebec and federal governments work bilaterally to streamline the process to grant Canadian citizenship to children adopted abroad, while respecting the Quebec civil code.

Unfortunately, since 1993, and particularly since 1998, the letters sent by the Quebec ministers have been ignored. Today, we can only ask that the principle of the best interests of the child be applied in Canada. Because if we believe in the fundamental principle which says that the best interests of the child must be protected, it is with these interests in mind that the federal government must cooperate with the Quebec government. The Secrétariat sur l'adoption internationale has done an excellent job. In absolute as well as relative numbers, Quebec welcomes more adopted children from abroad than any Canadian province.

This shows that not only the civil code, but particularly Quebec's approach in this regard, work properly and are effective. What the federal government wants to do through clauses 16 and 17 is to create distortion in something that works just fine.

How can we accept that, as regards an approach that is working, an approach that has allowed Quebec to welcome, both in absolute relative numbers and more adopted children, the federal government is proposing a provision which, by virtue of clauses 16 and 17, could go as far as creating a form of discrimination toward children, and also toward Quebec parents. The government must be receptive to these repeated requests.

The government must heed these demands, because back in 1998, ministers Rochon and Boisclair explained that this bill raised various problems in Quebec, including how to reconcile the legislation and our civil code, and the health issue and additional costs that could ensue as a result.

To close, I would say that this bill contains a number of incongruities. Of course, the time had come to update the Citizenship Act, which goes back to 1977. Of course, certain provisions needed to be clarified. However, there are certain provisions that concern us on this side of the House.

First, there is the issue of foreign adoptions. Second, there is the issue of the oath of allegiance to Canada. Then there are the citizenship commissioners. Under this bill, their appointment could be seen as a plum patronage position. We have a golden opportunity to change this.

I would like to close with one of the more original ideas proposed by my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. There has been much talk of legal citizenship, but he spoke of civic citizenship. Why not have a copy of Quebec's Charter of the French Language, our Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms given out at the oath ceremony? I think that would be the honourable thing to do.

I am sure that my colleague will present amendments in committee to ensure that Bill C-18 could include this original idea.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie for providing us with the background to this bill that amends legislation dating back to 1977. He also told us about the irritants that the Bloc Quebecois feels must be removed to improve this bill.

I would also like to hear my colleague talk to us about the legal process that has been put in place, which will make it possible to deport certain immigrants to their country of origin, without the right to a fair trial and without the right to appeal. The day after this bill was introduced, the French-language media told us that there were some irritants in this regard.

I would like to have the comments of my colleague about the problems that are in this bill.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, concerning what my colleague is saying, the bill sponsored by the minister of immigration is quite consistent with his approach and his political background.

I would like to remind the House that, on April 10, 1995, the current minister of immigration, the member for Bourassa, said that, sometimes, he felt like restoring the deportation act and sending back to their country those who spit on the Canadian flag.

I think that what my colleague just said is clearly included in these provisions. I believe that this is a direct consequence of what the minister said.

What is rather incredible is that the member for Bourassa made this judgment and today he is sponsoring a bill that will make it possible to implement what he believed in 1995. This is a concern for citizens who want to live here, to work here and to share our Quebec values.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie talk about the Civil Code.

With respect to this bill, my colleague did a very good job of explaining the legislative difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. For the sake of those who are listening to us, I will say that the Civil Code is part of the history of Quebec. In the days of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, the Napoleonic Code was adapted for the Province of Quebec and became the Civil Code of Quebec. The law is not the same in Quebec. In Quebec, we do not interpret the law the same way as in the rest of Canada.

For decades now we have been trying to explain to the rest of Canada that Quebec is a distinct society. This is not new. It has been a distinct society since the beginning of the colonies. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, what we would like to see in Bill C-18 is a recognition of the Civil Code, as my colleague said, as well as of Quebec courts.

Under this bill, children adopted abroad will have to go through the whole immigration process. The Civil Code of Quebec provides that only a Quebec court can finalize an adoption.

In view of the importance of the Civil Code, the Government of Quebec is demanding that the federal government work bilaterally with the Government of Quebec to recognize the exemplary work done by Quebec courts. Quebec's procedure has resulted in more foreign adoptions, in absolute and relative numbers, than in the rest of Canada. Why should we change something that works well?

And why not recognize the Civil Code of Quebec, which is an inherent part of Quebec's history? This is what we would like the government to acknowledge. My colleague will introduce amendments and we will work to enshrine this recognition in the bill.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-18 amending the Citizenship Act. I think that my colleague has raised a lot of questions and one of the issues that we are particularly concerned with is the adoption of children abroad.

According to the present rules, measures will have to be taken so that we have guarantees to that effect in the act and it will not be very expensive for the government to do so. We insist on it and anyway, I do not see how the government could bypass the Quebec civil code. However, our colleague from Laval West will certainly want to propose an amendment to remove any doubt.

At the present time, a child adopted abroad has to go through the whole process required of any immigrant, the medical examination and all the steps that follow. But it is also true that the process is quicker for a child and can take less time than for a regular resident. Except that in Quebec, a young child cannot be declared a Canadian citizen until the Quebec court of adoption has given its ruling under the Quebec Civil Code. We therefore find it extremely important that this element be taken into account in the act.

As far as the adoption of children abroad is concerned, many countries authorize the adoption of their children. In those countries, it works for a while and then it stops working. But each one of these countries has a specific process for the adoption of children. It might be a good idea for the government to study the issue in view of making things a little more uniform, of making things less complicated for parents and helping them understand what to expect when they deal with county x or country y , so that the process is clear for everybody.

It is important to mention that Canadian parents--and I myself am godmother to a young Canadian adopted in Russia--live under a cloud of uncertainty as long as they do not have the guarantee that their child will be granted Canadian citizenship.

So, it is important that, when that day comes, everything is settled and done as it is nowadays. It is probably better to grant Canadian citizenship to the child right away, but it is obvious that citizenship will not be immediately granted if it is not done under the Quebec Civil Code which is, as we all know, the most important element to establish that the child can really reside in Quebec and in Canada.

Let us now turn to the citizenship oath that can be found in an appendix to the 75 clause bill. It says, and I quote:

From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada.

What I find amazing is that the summary, where the most important elements of the bill are listed, says that the Citizenship Act will amend some things and provide for a modern citizenship oath. I do not see what is modern about pledging allegiance to Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen ofCanada, who is celebrating this year her 50th anniversary as Her Majesty the Queen of Canada. I do not think that when one pledges allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, one is keeping up with the times.

We should perhaps use another term or make sure Canadian citizens no longer have to take an oath of allegiance to something the Deputy Prime Minister considers archaic. This is either archaic or modern. You cannot have it both ways.

For once, I would support a motion by the Deputy Prime Minister, and I would do so with great pleasure. Should the Prime Minister decide to introduce a motion to the effect that, when the queen is replaced, Canada will no longer have a queen or a king, then we would be truly a sovereign country, something Pierre Elliott Trudeau wanted when he unilaterally patriated the constitution. He used to tell us it was high time Canada became independent and sovereign. If we want to be independent and sovereign, we should really do away with an archaic institution.

Like my colleague said, when I hear about the oath of allegiance in Canada, it calls up a number of memories. Before the last election, for example, the present Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who was then the Secretary of State responsible for Amateur Sport, personally presided over a oath taking ceremony in Sherbrooke. We remember his statement well. He did not talk about an oath of allegiance to Canada. He asked these new citizens to remember which country had welcomed them, which country they were becoming a part of, and told them they should remember it on election day. He really went a bit too far.

If we want to talk about allegiance to Canada now, and if this is what the minister has in mind, it could also be a concern to take an oath of allegiance to Canada. However, the Bloc Quebecois is not opposed in theory to the idea of Canadian citizens taking an oath of allegiance to Canada, because some day we will want citizens to take an oath of allegiance to Quebec when have our own country. This is perfectly acceptable to us. Except that we would not want ministers or commissioners swearing in new citizens to wax on about democratic values and faithfully respecting the law and fulfilling the rights and obligations of Canadian citizenship.

I will not rehash what my colleague brought up earlier about what the minister, who was not even a member at the time, said in reference to our colleague, Osvaldo Nunez, an immigrant from Chile, a Canadian citizen at the time of the comments, whose country of origin was Chile. Members of the Bloc Quebecois have never attacked the origins of our colleagues, even though approximately one third of the members of this House were not born in Canada. For us, they are all Canadian citizens, and we have no problem with the fact that they may have been born in another country.

So, we spoke about adoption, and the oath of allegiance. I hope that this time around, there will not be any nasty surprises with this bill, because this is our third try at updating the Citizenship Act.

I have read the bill carefully. However, there is one thing that bothers me, and I will talk with my colleague to see if we might be able to introduce an amendment to the bill, to resolve the following matter.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I am sorry, but I must interrupt the hon. member, since the hon. government House leader has a point of order.

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to apologize to the hon. member, but I see that the time is appropriate for moving the establishment of the Official Languages Committee.

An agreement has been arrived at by all parties. Some things could have been different today. However, this is the right time to move this motion.

Before doing so, I would like to indicate that the intention is that this committee be responsible for monitoring enforcement of the Official Languages Act. Therefore I move the following motion on which all parties in the House have come to an agreement. I move:

That the Standing Orders be as follows:

  1. By deleting subsection (b) of section (3) of Standing Order 104 and by redesignating subsection (c) of section (3) of Standing Order 104 as subsection (b);

  2. By deleting subsection (b) of section (4) of Standing Order 108 and by redesignating subsection (c) of section (4) of Standing Order 108 as subsection (b);

  3. By inserting immediately after subsection (n) of section (2) of the Standing Order 104, the words “(o) Official Languages (sixteen Members)” and by redesignating subsections (o), (p) and (q) of section (2) of Standing Order 104, respectively, as subsections (p), (q) and (r);

  4. By inserting immediately after subsection (c) of section (3) of Standing Order 108, the following:

(d) Official Languages shall include, among other matters, the review of and report on official languages policies and programs, including Reports of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which shall be deemed permanently referred to the Committee immediately after they are laid upon the Table;

and

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall prepare and report to the House within five sitting days after the adoption of this Order a list of Members to compose the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

To put it plainly, the purpose here is to establish the House Standing Committee on Official Languages, since there is now no joint committee following the actions of the other place.

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just need some clarification here. It seems to me that the government House leader has said that the members of the committee would be appointed within five days. But since the House does not sit next week, what about these five days?

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, according to this provision, they are sitting days. As in the case of all the other committees, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will submit names to be approved by the House together with the report. Then, of course, the committee will be organized as usual at its first sitting.

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent for the hon. government House leader to propose the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

November 7th, 2002 / 5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate. The member for Rimouski-Neigette-et-la Mitis still has ten minutes.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was about to explain a situation for which I would like to find a solution. I spoke with my colleague about this case, but I am going to come back to it.

Here is the situation: several years ago, when he was very young, a constituent of mine set out to see the world. He ended up in Australia and, one fine day, he applied for Australian citizenship. An exceptional series of circumstances rekindled his desire to return to Canada.

On September 11, 2001, I was in Australia with a group of parliamentarians for the Commonwealth conference. As we were delayed for a couple of days, we asked someone at the hotel what was the best restaurant in town. When he heard people speaking French with a Quebec accent, a young waiter stopped near us and asked if we were from Quebec. He introduced himself and said he used to live in Rimouski.

He wanted to come back to Quebec and apply for a Canadian passport, but he learned that he was no longer a Canadian citizen. When he had applied for Australian citizenship several years ago, Canada did not allow its citizens to have dual nationality. Therefore, unbeknownst to him, he had been stripped of his nationality. He is no longer a Canadian citizen. If he wants to come back to Canada as a Canadian citizen and again have a Canadian passport, he must apply to immigrate to his own country.

Frankly, in my opinion, this legislation makes no sense. His father lives in Rimouski, his brothers and sisters live in Rimouski. He was born in the hospital in Rimouski. He is Canadian in origin and he is now being denied the right to have restored to him, through some sort of accommodation, the nationality of which he was stripped without his knowledge. How can an 18 year old roaming the world in 1975 be expected to have the required means of communication? We did not have the means of communication then that we have today. The fact that this happened without his knowledge seems quite normal to me; we cannot blame him for being ignorant of the law.

When a civil servant tells me: “Ms. Tremblay, ignorance of the law is no excuse”, that makes me think of the great sociologist, Jon E. Kolberg, who said there were eight levels of social development. When someone gives me this sort of answer, it corresponds perfectly to stage two, which is just a step above stage one. It is law and order. It is like those people who have been waiting for ten minutes for the red light to change, but who have not realized that the lights are not working and will not cross on the red light because that is against the law.

When I find myself up against someone who interprets the law so narrowly, I tell myself that it is really sad to think that in this country, there is someone who was born in Canada, who lived in Canada for the first 18 years of his life, but who, 30 years later, as he is approaching the age of 50, cannot come back to his own country. He must immigrate to his own country and go through the whole process.

He was in Canada and he was told “No, if you want to become a Canadian citizen, you have to leave Canada and go to another country. You must go to an embassy and meet someone to become a citizen, to regain your Canadian citizenship”. I think this is wrong. I hope the minister will listen to the arguments made by my colleague, and I intend to ask him to do something about this case.

I am quite sure that several young people, between 1947 and 1977, since that dates back to the time when the act was amended in 1977, were not informed individually of what would happen if they applied for another citizenship. Moreover, today it is possible to be a Canadian citizen and have dual citizenship. I really hope we will be able to do something to improve the situation.

Let us look at clauses 16 and 17 of Bill C-18. My colleague for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie already mentioned that even if we, in the Bloc Quebecois, agree with the underlying principle of Bill C-18, we are quite concerned about the controversy that might arise if the bill is passed with clauses 16 and 17 unchanged. Clause 17 deals with definitions. Clause 16 lists the various ways one may lose one's citizenship. In my view it is open to abuse on the part of a government or a minister.

Again, when we recall what was said about Osvaldo Nunez, we think “Let us not be paranoid”. However, we believe there might be a risk and a danger that a government might put its words into action and deprive of his new citizenship a citizen who, after swearing allegiance to Canada, might decide to openly work, as Mr. Nunez did with us, to build a country he would find more interesting for himself and for his children than the one he immigrated to in the first place.

This is a problem for us. Some very clear explanations will have to be given to us for our concerns to be alleviated. We feel that this could cause real problems for citizens who might live in constant fear or decide to go underground in order not to be labelled as a member of a given party. It would not necessarily have to be a sovereignist party, simply a party that the government of the time would not like.

We look at what is going on today throughout the world. People thought that the war of 1914-18 had taught the world a lesson. The war of 1939-45 showed there was still cause for concern. Now, when we thought the lesson had finally got through, we see that the 21st century is not very reassuring, with the continuing conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and Israel. It is all very well for the United Nations to pass resolution after resolution to try to calm down the situation and get people to live in more peace and harmony, but we can see that this does not actually change much. People are still ready, for one reason or another, to fire on each other. To have a clause as permissive as this one in a bill can be a source of concern.

Citizenship is the most important thing to an individual living in a given country. Political citizenship and public citizenship are very important. When we think that citizenship can be revoked, however, that is problematic.

There are reasons for revoking citizenship, but when we read between the lines, some of these reasons may be extremely dangerous and make us think that it does not bode well.

Personally, I think that the government also made a cosmetic amendment in deciding that immigration judges would no longer be referred to as judges but as commissioners. I tried to look up definitions in dictionaries and would personally have preferred to continue talking about citizenship judges.

Changing citizenship judge for citizenship commissioner appeared to me as a cosmetic change at first, but on closer reflection, a commissioner is much less important than a judge; commissioners cannot think as freely and are less independent, and I would fear greatly that they would have to play some kind of propaganda role to keep their jobs.

We can ask the question because it is written somewhere at the beginning if this is a bill to promote citizenship. The commissioner would then have to promote citizenship. Frankly, I am afraid the commissioner would be in a perilous situation.

In closing, this is a very important bill, and I hope the government will show flexibility in listening to the wish list of opposition parties and making the necessary changes.

Citizenship of Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Small CommunitiesPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the recent census taken in 2001 confirms the significant momentum of population towards cities in Canada and given the negative impact this trend will have on smaller and rural communities, the government should take urgent steps to reverse this dangerous trend, namely: (a) changing immigration laws in our country; and (b) implementing a real economic development program for the provinces which are experiencing a real decline in population.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to thank the seconder of my motion, the hon. member for Dauphin--Swan River, and I know everyone will join me in saying hello to my wife Rosemary who is watching this debate and hanging on every word.

I moved the motion because I became alarmed when I saw the recent 2001 census, which indicated so much movement of our Canadian population to urban areas, specifically to four cities: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Even within provinces there is a very dangerous and major trend toward living in urban areas, resulting in a decline in rural areas.

Many of us in the House represent rural areas and have experienced a decline in our population. In my view, this decline will make it impossible for smaller urban areas, smaller towns, smaller villages and smaller municipalities to maintain their infrastructure, their health care, their education and their highways. As for the urban centres that are increasing in growth, this movement of population will put a major burden on their infrastructure as well. This will put a burden on their health care systems and their educational systems and it will cause social problems that they are not prepared to meet. So even the urban areas that are getting the benefit of the increase in population will pay a price for this dangerous trend.

I want to refer to some of the actual numbers that I think will change the face of our country more than anything we deal with, more than even the Kyoto accord or the war on terrorism. This movement of population within the country is going to have a bigger impact than anything we ever have to deal with. I say that because in my own riding we have suffered a population decline in the county of Cumberland and in my own riding of Cumberland--Colchester. I checked the statistics a minute ago. The seconder of my motion, the member for Dauphin--Swan River, also suffered a decline in his riding. My colleague from Gander--Grand Falls has suffered a decline in population in his riding of 9.8%, an almost 10% decline from 1996 to 2001.

The situation is much worse than the numbers show because the decline involves mostly our young people. Our young people are going where the opportunities are. This is leaving a tremendous vacuum in regard to people starting new businesses, people buying houses and people taking over properties and maintaining our communities, as well as our volunteers. They are just not going to be there. As our older generation moves along, there will be no younger generation available to pick up the slack in our charitable organizations and community work. All these communities will suffer. In the end, the urban communities, which probably think this is a good thing in some ways, will end up with larger transition or transfer payments if smaller communities cannot deal with the problem.

I would like to home in on a couple of provinces from the Statistics Canada census. In Newfoundland, every single federal riding suffered a decline in population. It is hard to imagine that: Every single riding in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador suffered a decline. In my province of Nova Scotia, seven ridings suffered a decline while only four had an increase. Those four ridings are closely associated with Halifax, the capital of our province. This decline in population will make it difficult to maintain the tax base, to maintain health care and to maintain education. There will be a smaller tax base.

Again, it is the people who are leaving now who would have increased the tax base, and not only by numbers. These are the people who would have built the businesses, built the economy and created the growth and wealth in our communities. We are losing them and the government has not recognized this fact. It has not even acknowledged this. It has not come up with a specific set of programs to deal with this issue.

Moving on to the province of New Brunswick, it had a decline in seven of its ridings. Only three ridings came out ahead. In Quebec, 27 ridings suffered a decline in population. Even Ontario saw declines. Many of the ridings in northern Ontario suffered a decline, so we can see that it is not only the provinces in Atlantic Canada that are suffering. The province of Manitoba had seven ridings with a decline in population. It did have seven that came out ahead. Saskatchewan was even worse, with 10 ridings suffering a decline in population and only four coming out ahead. Alberta is a completely different story. It had an overall population increase of 10.3%.

This is a very serious problem and it is not going to resolve itself. It will be resolved only if we take action. That is why I was moved to bring forth the motion today. My riding is a rural riding, like many ridings represented here today, and I believe that we must move quickly to protect these ridings.

There are two issues that I have identified in the motion. One is an immigration policy that will help direct immigrants to the rural areas rather than just the concentrated urban centres, which is what happens now.

The other issue I have raised is that of having an economic development program that is really focused on economic development. My observation is that the economic development programs we have across the country have lost their focus. They have lost their vision. They have lost their direction to really home in on real hard economic development. I believe they have lost their direction. They are involved with so many other issues, with park development, for example, and with many aspects other than economic development. These are important issues and they have to be dealt with, and while the economic development programs play an important role in regard to these issues, with the programs focusing on some of these other areas they have lost their direction or their goal of addressing economic development issues.

Let us consider the fact that 6 out of 13 provinces and territories have declined in population. That is how bad it is. Half of our country's provinces and territories have lost population. It is quite a scary number. Newfoundland alone lost 7% of the population. It will make it impossible for the provinces and territories to maintain their quality of life, their infrastructure and the standards they have now. Let me point out that the situation is not one that may happen or one that is a possibility: It is happening right now. Newfoundland is the worst case, with its loss of 7% of the population.

If we were operating a business with our market declining by 7%, it would be really difficult to survive and maintain our business. We would have to increase our market share dramatically just to offset the decline in market.

The provinces cannot do that. When the people leave, they are gone. There is no option. The provinces cannot increase their market share. They cannot increase tax revenue from any other source. They cannot replace it. It is just gone. This will put a tremendous stress burden on the provinces that are suffering a decline, and 98 out of 301 ridings, or 32%, have had a decline in population. The prospects due to the results of this decline are truly frightening: The infrastructure will just not be maintained.

How do we address this? We have some ideas. We are not the only ones who have ideas on this issue. I really want to raise public awareness of the problem. I want to raise awareness on the government side, too, so that it will recognize that this problem must be dealt with.

The first possible solution I want to talk about is an immigration policy that will address some of these needs. Since I proposed this motion many months ago, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has come up with some unique ideas. He has acknowledged that there is a problem. I am glad he has acknowledged it. He has come up with some ideas on how to encourage, or even more than encourage, immigrants who come to Canada to go to the rural areas.

I went to the minister with a pilot project proposal that actually came about as a result of an effort in my riding in the town of Truro, a very progressive and positive community. Truro wanted to bring five Korean families to Truro, five families at once. There is very little immigration as such to Truro, but an organization wanted to sponsor five Korean families to come to the town and make their home there.

The immigration rules would not allow them to come together. They had to come one at a time. Due to that rule, the first family would not take the chance and move to Truro and be the first ones there, the first ones and probably the only ones to speak the Korean language and share their culture, religion, language and their way of life. They would not come. That family went to Toronto instead. Then the second family went to Toronto when it was approved, and then the third one and so on.

Because the families could not come as a group to Truro, none of them would be the first to establish in a new area. This brought to our attention a situation in the immigration rules which discourages people from going to the rural areas. It results in people going to where there is already a community of their own nationality when they come to Canada.

The town of Truro proposed to the minister of immigration that he establish a pilot project to bring to Truro several families from another land. We do not know where they will be from yet, but we proposed that he consider bringing families to the town of Truro. The minister has agreed to at least consider this, and in fact I think more than consider it, because there is a tremendous amount of support for this in Truro. The mayor of the town of Truro, Bill Mills, the mayor of the municipality of Colchester, Mike Smith, several church organizations, social organizations, economic development groups, potential employers and just interested people and groups have come together to say that they want to try this. They want to try bringing families to Truro in this pilot project.

There has been a tremendous amount of support for this. The minister will come to Truro in the next month or so and meet with this organization of organizations to see if we can come up with a formula that ensures that the immigrants who come to Truro feel welcome. It is a very positive community that looks forward and is innovative and has a positive approach to everything it does. Hopefully we will be able to put together a package which will ensure that the families that come to Truro will feel welcome and hopefully it will be very successful in encouraging immigrants to come to rural Canada.

I believe it would be a lot better than trying to force them or make them feel an obligation to stay for a certain period of time or whatever. If we can make them want to stay and make them feel comfortable, I think the chances of success are much better. I compliment the minister on allowing us to explore this pilot project. We are all very excited about it. Hopefully it will come together very quickly.

The second issue that I feel has to be addressed is economic development. This has been a very controversial subject for a long time. There have been several tries at it. ACOA was established to replace an organization that operated out of Ottawa. ACOA was set up to operate from Atlantic Canada. It is like FedNor and Western Economic Diversification and all the economic development programs that were established to put the decision making in the areas where the services need to be applied. However, in my view they seem to have morphed into something that they were never intended to be. They have lost their distinct focus on economic development. Somehow we have to come back to a very focused and driven economic development program to address these issues.

Those are two of the many components that I think should go into a strategy to at least slow down this incredible movement to urban Canada from rural Canada, because again, everybody is going to pay a price.

Urban Canada will pay a price and there will be a tremendous overburden on its infrastructure. Rural Canada will pay a price. We will not be able to survive and maintain our standard of living, health care, education, even highways, all the things we have come to enjoy. We will not be able to depend on such services as social services and so forth because the tax base will simply decline. The tax income will not be there for the municipalities and provinces. Even the federal tax base will decline in the rural areas.

I feel it is very important. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing it and realizing that it is an urgent problem. Many things with which we deal are problems that may happen. However this is a problem right now. From 1996 to 2001, the population in 6 of 13 provinces and territories decreased. Again this is not a potential problem. It is real and it is urgent. It will change the face of our country more than anything we deal with on a day to day basis.

I am thankful for the chance to raise this issue. Hopefully this will raise public awareness of the problem. Hopefully I have created an interest for the government side and other opposition parties to recognize that perhaps this is a problem and that we had better look at it. If we do not change this almost migration of population within our country, down the road it will be very expensive to fix.

Small CommunitiesPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for his motion. Whenever we are concerned about rural Canada, a motion is always appropriate and always pertinent. I am sure his wife Rosemary is most pleased with his fine comments today.

I would like to first acknowledge that the census reports show that we are experiencing a shift in our population. It is not a simple thing to analyze because our country is made up of many different regions with unique characteristics and with a unique set of large and small communities. It is not just cities and the rest of Canada.

When we leave the boundaries of our major urban centres, we do not find a homogeneous rural area from that boundary and beyond. It is very different when we look at what is happening around our cities, what is happening further out in what we call the heartland areas and what is happening beyond that, in what we might refer to as our remote areas, such as the area that I come from in northern Ontario and beyond into the Northwest Territories and so forth.

I would like to just take a moment to say that we have a minister who is responsible for rural development in Canada. The minister has worked very hard to raise the profile with our urban neighbours. We need a strong rural Canada to have a strong country. I would like to emphasize that it is not a matter of urban versus rural. It never has been and never should be. It is a partnership. Each recognizes in the other that a healthy urban society is good for the country and a healthy rural society is good for the country.

I would like to just comment briefly on immigration. I have discussed with some of my mayors and reeves the notion of attracting immigrants from other parts of the world to our rural areas. For instance, the member for Cumberland—Colchester would like to see immigrants come to his neighbourhood.

He mentioned a pilot project in Truro. I was most intrigued about that, and I hope he will keep the House apprised of those developments. I am encouraged, and I am not surprised, that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is supporting that initiative to see if there are new ways and some different thinking that can be brought to the challenge of attracting immigrants to our non-metropolitan areas. I appreciate that he has raised the idea that Truro is trying to attract a group of maybe five families from one area of one country. It did not work out regarding the five families in Korea but that it is an excellent idea. That and many other ideas need to be tried.

I think he will find great support for good, new ideas that might help bring immigrants to the parts of the country that are not used to having immigrants come in large numbers. Our population decline is a complex thing but we need to have our share of new Canadians who will choose to make Canada their home. They invariably bring good skills and great economic wealth to the nation.

I would rather focus the rest of my time on the economic development side of things. In northern Ontario, in the area I represent, economic development goes right down to the grassroots. I noticed in the member's motion, and it may have been inadvertent, that it mentions that the federal government should have economic development strategies and programs for the provinces. I do not think he meant that we should tell the provinces what to do. By way of clarification, I think he really means that the federal government should show, by leadership and by example, its interest in economic development in the different regions of the country.

I can tell member that the government, while always willing to try new ideas, has already put in place numerous excellent measures to help local communities, where the ideas should come from, to develop good ideas. I am sure the member does not mean to suggest that bureaucrats or politicians in Ottawa or Toronto should tell local communities what is best for them.

In the case of northern Ontario, FedNor, and ACOA in his area in the Atlantic provinces, try to promote local partnerships to allow good local ideas to be supported in the hopes that the best ideas will grow and become those economic generators that we need.

I would just point out the many things that the government has already done. The Canadian rural partnership program, with a $55 million investment, has done a lot to promote dialogue, to promote the information sharing and to promote the sharing of best practices at the local levels in rural Canada.

Under the telecommunications initiative, the government has committed to ensuring that broadband telecommunication is available to all of our communities by 2005 so that every community will have a door to the world when it comes to communications and access to the best of medicine and education. It will give our local businesses in those communities a chance to share in the worldwide marketplace.

The government not only continues to support our regional economic development agencies, but in many cases has improved that support and has allowed those agencies to be more flexible and more able to adapt to regional realities. In particular, I know in my area, and I would say in all areas in the country, our local Community Futures Development Corporations, our CFDCs, have done a marvellous job in ensuring that local ideas are supported.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers who make up the boards of these CFDCs. They provide the kinds of insights at the local level that we could never find from far away places. We appreciate that, and the federal government's support through the regional agencies for those local programs which is absolutely essential.

Under the Canada provincial-territorial infrastructure program, the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of improving infrastructure, not just in our urban centres but across the country, reaching out to the smallest of our villages and hamlets. In northern Ontario there are hundreds of communities. In my own area there are 40 to 60 smaller communities. Without the federal government becoming involved, they would never hope to improve their local infrastructures which are needed to create and foster a local environment of economic health and hope. We hope that in the future our young people will want to come home after they have received their college or university educations or after they have spent some years working somewhere else. We hope they will feel they can go home to their rural areas, their rural homes and build something for the benefit of all.

I could go on listing the many things that the government has done and continues to do. I will not even mention the initiatives to support renewable energies under the tax regime. Many of these initiatives emanate from rural Canada.

I want to underline that rural Canada is not a homogeneous set of villages dotting the country as soon as we leave the boundaries of a city. It is made up of generally three categories of communities.

First are those areas that are adjacent to metropolitan areas and that benefit from a spillover effect which is good for them.

Second are those communities that are in the heartland. The populations in this area are more or less stable. They suffer the challenges of competing, like all the communities do, with larger cities.

We really must recognize that they too differ from the third category, our more remote regions like northern Ontario, the far north of Canada, the northern areas of our prairie provinces and of Labrador and northern Quebec. These areas are so far from our metropolitan centres that the distance really counts for a lot when it comes to economic development.

I will conclude by thanking the member for Cumberland—Colchester for putting forward the motion. He does us all a service by making sure that this place recognizes the importance of rural Canada to the nation. That is indeed where this country started from. If we lose sight of the importance of rural Canada we will in fact lose sight of what it is to be a nation.

I am sure that rural Canada will continue to be strong and will carry this country into the future forever.

Small CommunitiesPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on the motion by the hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester. I understand Rosemary Casey may be watching the proceedings this evening.

The motion before us states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the recent census taken in 2001 confirms the significant momentum of population toward cities in Canada and given the negative impact this trend will have on smaller and rural communities, the government should take urgent steps to reverse this dangerous trend, namely: (a) changing immigration laws in our country; and (b) implementing a real economic development program for the provinces which are experiencing a real decline in population.

Let me say at the outset that I, and I suspect the vast majority of my colleagues in the official opposition, share the concern and the general sentiment that clearly lies behind the motion.

I, like many members of the House, grew up principally in a small rural community. For myself that was a little place called Wilcox, Saskatchewan, which has a population of just over 200 people. Growing up in a small community like that I have a strong affection for those who, in many ways, make economic sacrifices in order to live a simpler, slower and more communal life that is found in so many of our rural communities.

I, like many, feel a great sadness when I see rural communities on the Prairies, in outport communities in Atlantic Canada or in smaller communities throughout central Canada continue to decline in population as young people move away to seek economic opportunities in the cities and as economic opportunities decline in these smaller communities themselves.

It is sad to go back and see, what were once vibrant towns, becoming in some cases ghost towns; to see the mighty towers of the Prairies, those great old wooden grain elevators, coming down one by one; to see the stores and local services closed; and to see aging communities losing their hospitals, their schools and losing the capacity to provide essential social services to the communities.

I know this problem exists, not just in the rural Prairies but right across the country, a country which used to be in its history, essentially a rural nation. In the 1860s, at the time of Confederation, the population of Canada consisted of roughly 80% rural people and 20% urban people. Today, 130-some years later, we find that those figures have reversed to the point where roughly 20% of Canadians live outside of cities, and the number continues to decline.

The concern over this is not just simply a matter of nostalgia. Yes, nostalgia for many of us who have a history in rural Canada does play a role in it, but I believe that small rural communities are the moral and cultural foundation of a society insofar as they are communities where people are close to the land and where the virtues which make a society great are most easily cultivated; the basic ideas of strong, voluntary institutions of what Edmund Burke called those little platoons of civic virtue, like the family, like church and religious institutions, like real vibrant community organizations where the vast majority of the people in a community will be involved.

These institutions, which are found to have great strength and vigour in rural communities, are central to a nation's character. We often find that a hugely disproportionate number of successful people in all endeavours have come from rural communities because they learned a degree of personal responsibility, of work ethic and a sense of community that is really extraordinary. For that reason I agree with the general concern expressed by the motion.

However I am not sure that the general remedies proposed here are workable or effective. For instance, the member suggests that we change immigration laws to reverse the trend. I agree with the objective of increasing immigration to rural communities. I am not sure what government can do in that direction given the mobility rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I believe it is a problem when well over 95% of new immigrants who arrive in this country go directly to and stay in our largest cities, principally Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, other large cities like my own city of Calgary.

While we do and should welcome new immigrants to those large urban communities, it would be nice if we could find ways to encourage migration back to rural Canada.

The whole development of the country was one of immigration to rural areas, but that was for reasons of economic incentive. People homesteaded in the west. They originally founded the outport fishing communities of Atlantic Canada and the logging and mining communities of central Canada because there was a very real and direct economic benefit for them to do so. That economic benefit increasingly is not there. I do not know how we can create artificial incentives for new people who arrive in this country to go to a place where they may not find employment, where they may not have an infrastructure of family or community support immediately available to them.

I think this is a marvellous objective but I regret to say that I am somewhat skeptical about our ability to actually engineer a redirection of immigration patterns to rural communities.

Although I would be interested to hear of any concrete and workable proposals that have worked in other jurisdictions and that did not violate the mobility rights provisions of the charter, if there are such concrete ideas, and this is more than just a rhetorical exercise, I would be very interested to hear those proposals.

In terms of the suggested remedy of implementing a real economic development program for the provinces that are experiencing decline in population, of course everybody is in favour of economic development in rural Canada and all parts of Canada, but I think some of us can be justifiably skeptical about the efficacy of government when it comes to government driven economic development. Economic development programs of this nature have been tried again and again for the better part of 40 years in economically depressed regions of the country and in rural Canada and they have failed again and again. There have been countless government programs, tens of billions of dollars spent and tens of thousands of bureaucrats hired to administer them, with the objective of promoting economic development in rural Canada. However I do think those programs demonstrated a patina of success in turning around the gradual economic decline of rural Canada.

I think that the best recipe for economic growth in rural Canada is the same as for Canada as a whole; that is to say, for us to become a more productive economy, with greater incentives for people to work, save and invest, which attracts capital and investment, investment which inevitably will go to and benefit many rural communities.

However for us to create yet another program where bureaucrats will hand out grant dollars to people because they might locate businesses in rural communities has been tried and it has failed.

Let us try a new approach. Let us try the approach that has succeeded in many rural communities that I know of, practically speaking, in the west. I think one would find that the smaller towns and rural communities in Alberta have had more success in economic development, and in retaining and growing their population than any other province in Canada because there is a vibrant private sector economy in that province. We do not look to government to create jobs in those communities. We look to the private sector to do so. With a low tax and regulatory regime, and a diversified and productive economy, rural communities are doing reasonably well compared to the rest of the country. I propose that is a good model for economic development in rural Canada.

I close by commending the member for bringing the motion forward.

Small CommunitiesPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the motion by my colleague from Nova Scotia. This motion reads as follows:

--the recent census taken in 2001 confirms the significant momentum of population towards cities in Canada and given the negative impact this trend will have on smaller and rural communities...

It is not the first time I speak about this in the House. In my remarks, I would like to focus on the solutions advocated by my colleague. However, I might have some problems in fully endorsing his proposals.

First, let us talk about rural policy or the regional and rural policy of the federal government. First of all, what policy? This is what I have been wondering about, since the funds invested in this policy absolutely do not meet the expectations of rural Canada.

In Quebec, we already have a rural policy. It is a first step. We are now working toward strengthening regions. Through various organizations, the government is trying to provide the necessary tools and means to enable regions to regain some strength.

What is happening in the maritime provinces? As my colleague was saying, that region is also greatly affected by this exodus of people. It is often young people who leave rural regions. We see this throughout Quebec; the population is getting older and there is no new blood.

My colleague talks about changing the immigration legislation in the country. We know that the Quebec government has been working for a long time to reach a consensus and to make gains to ensure that immigration policies are shared responsibilities. We finally reached an agreement whereby some responsibilities are now under Quebec jurisdiction, while others are under federal jurisdiction.

If the government wants to change immigration legislation in the country, it should make these changes in cooperation with the provinces and, in particular, with Quebec.

A partnership has been established on immigration. A proposal to rectify a situation should not create another injustice. If the government introduces a national, coast to coast policy, and this national policy does not respect the policies that are already in force in the provinces, once again, we will have to deal with some difficult situations.

I say to my colleague that I agree with changes to immigration, but in cooperation with the provinces. If ever these changes are made, I really hope that the federal government will make them in cooperation with the Quebec government.

I would now like to talk about one of the causes of this exodus. The exodus of people from rural regions to cities, particularly young people, is a growing problem. The federal government is largely responsible for this exodus by refusing to loosen employment insurance rules.

In the Maritimes, as in Quebec, Ontario and western Canada, everyone is suffering as a result of the employment insurance legislation. The legislation is very strict, it has no flexibility and it pays no regard to seasonal workers. It does not meet the needs of rural regions. What we do know is that it prevents people from settling in regions or rural areas. Here is an example.

A young person moves to a region and gets a seasonal job. He gets a job in a unionized plant where there are seniority lists. Before being eligible for EI benefits, he must work 910 hours. Think about it, 910 hours.

If there is an economic downturn, or a period where the seasonal work ends, this young person is unable to qualify for EI benefits. What does he do? He turns around and looks for a job, and ends up moving to an urban centre where he will be able to find more permanent employment that allows him to get his 910 hours.

We all know that when a person leaves a region and begins to feel at ease in a large city, that person does not go back to his region. This happens all the time.

In my riding, I often see young people who are attending CEGEP or university, and they do not necessarily come back to the riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable. This situation may also explain why, when a young person leaves his or her region, that person does not necessarily come back to work there. This is truly an unfair situation, a glaring injustice to the new generation.

If we want to revitalize regions and rural communities, it is essential that young people remain there. Then, once we have managed to keep our young people in our ridings, we can go ahead with the proposal put forward by the hon. member from the Maritimes and change immigration laws in our country to repopulate these regions, but always with the agreement of the provinces. This is done in Quebec, with the provincial government.

Personally, I think that, in the immigration sector, we have established a kind of partnership between the provincial and federal governments and we must continue in the same direction, so that the gains made by the Quebec government can be maintained, regardless of the changes made to the Immigration Act.

When we talk about economic development, again it is a rather broad notion. Everybody is involved with economic development, but there does not seen to be a common ground between the provinces and the federal government where they talk to one another and create a true economic program aimed at the regions and rural areas.

When I see the way the federal government believes in the regions and rural areas, and the crumbs it is giving the Secretary of State for Rural Development, I understand why people in the regions are starting to wonder. They are starting to really question how serious the government is with regard to the regions and rural areas.

If the federal government wants to send the clear message that it is ready to support the regions and rural areas, it is all fine and good to philosophize, make fine speeches and have lofty principles, but there has to be a commitment to real action. This means that the Throne from the Speech must contain concrete measures for the regions and rural areas.

When the Minister of Finance makes a budget statement, as he did in Halifax, he must signal that his government believes in the regions and rural areas. But through the years--I have been here since 1997--I have seen no real intent on the part of the current government to send a real message that it will help the regions and rural areas and support the efforts by communities to see to their own needs. Communities were so hard hit by cuts in government programs that they need support and encouragement.

I believe the federal government should take this issue seriously and send a clear message, namely that the minister of Finance or the Prime Minister will commit money and resources to encourage people. This, way people will be able to say that the federal government is doing its job.