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House of Commons Hansard #40 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cards.

Topics

Order in Council AppointmentsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table, in both official languages, a number of order in council appointments recently made by the government.

Government Business No. 6Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties with respect to the take note debate on Government Business No. 6 scheduled for later this date in committee of the whole and I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That during the take note debate in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 6 later this day, no dilatory motions, no quorum calls or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.

Government Business No. 6Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Government Business No. 6Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Department of International Trade ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Willowdale Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson LiberalMinister of International Trade

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-31, an act to establish the Department of International Trade and to make related amendments to certain acts.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Department of Foreign Affairs ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Avalon Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

R. John Efford Liberalfor the Minister of Foreign Affairs

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-32, an act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, a report on the visit to the Mexican Congress, held in Mexico City, Mexico, from November 8 to 10, 2004.

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-312, an Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of my hon. colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act dealing with the process for the appointment of returning officers.

The bill is intended to clean up political practices in the appointment of returning officers. Under the current system, the governor in council or the government appoints friends of the government, former organizers of the government party, instead of having, as the bill provides, an open and transparent process where positions would be posted in newspapers and the most qualified people would be hired. This would support the free and democratic election of the people's representatives.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-313, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts).

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to reintroduce this private member's bill in the House. If enacted it will raise the age of sexual consent from age 14 to age 16, something that is long overdue in the country.

I first introduced the bill in 1996 and have reintroduced it several times since, but with the proliferation of child prostitution and child pornography, we in the House should be more determined than ever to raise the age of sexual consent to at least 16 years to protect our children from sexual predators.

It is well known that when children are exploited, the damage is devastating and often lasts a lifetime. Therefore, for the sake of our children, I urge all members in the House to support the bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, my petitioners charge that government regulations are destroying the rural foundation upon which our society was founded, that the unnecessary gun registry and farmland, bush and forest control are causing undue hardships for these people, and that it is only by amending the Canadian Constitution to include property rights that the interference will stop.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, following the tragic murder of Clayton Kempton Howard in my riding on December 13, 2003, a petition is being submitted by petitioners asking for the Minister of Justice to ensure that the standard and expected practices with regard to sentencing are put in place to deal with those charged, assuming there is a proper conviction.

Clayton Kempton Howard was much loved in our community. He was the most popular of community workers in the community centre in Blake Boultbee. On behalf of his mother, the many young people with whom he worked and served, and the entire community, I am pleased to submit this petition despite its tragic circumstances.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

December 7th, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill today.

Before speaking specifically about the bill, I want to give the House a brief historical overview. I have been in politics for over 20 years, particularly since my move to the Gaspé in the early 1980s. If any place in Canada has suffered as a result of federal interference in regional development, it is the Gaspé.

I remember that just before the 1995 referendum, the commissions on the future of Quebec were created. I submitted a brief to this commission, the title of which was “Federalism—The Gaspé Peninsula: The laboratory for the failure of federalism in regional development”.

In order to raise its profile, the federal government tried, over several years, a number of different types of interventions in regional development. Because it lacked the basics needed to do this, it had to regularly change its approach.

We remember the former Department of Regional Economic Expansion. Initially, agreements were reached between Quebec government and the federal government in order to decide how investments would be made. However, the thirst for power and visibility led the federal government to withdraw from this kind of agreement and ultimately turn to direct interventions.

First, it was through the Federal Office of Regional Development - Quebec, as it was called back then, which was really an extension of the Department of Industry created by the Conservative government for one main reason. In short, the structure of the Department of Industry was almost entirely controlled by the economic establishment in Ontario. Consequently, it was impossible to obtain the necessary share of investments.

At that time, rather than withdrawing from regional development and giving Quebec its rightful share, the Conservatives decided, for visibility or maybe also out of a desire for greater efficiency, to create the Office of Federal Economic Development. It is somewhat similar to performing bypass surgery after a stroke so that blood can flow. Consequently, we wanted out of the Department of Industry and for the money to reach the regions of Quebec.

This judgment on what I have been seeing for the past 20 years is not aimed at those working in the system, in the bodies providing community development assistance or in the regional offices of Canada Economic Development . We know that the latter are doing the best they can within the rules they have. Our judgment on Bill C-9 has to do with the fact that the federal government instead of withdrawing from areas over which it has no responsibility is doing the opposite. It is continuing to want to take over more and more.

The amendment to the present legislation will enable the minister responsible to become a kind of senior minister, but in a sector that is not a federal responsibility. We should be concerned today with whether there is any overall advantage to Quebec in this bill.

Last week I learned something quite significant that I wish to share with the House. The federation of Independent business surveyed its entrepreneur members and came up with statistics for Canada and for Quebec. The survey was on whether it would be better to have tax credits or federal action by Canada Economic Development.

In the case of Canada, about 50% would prefer tax credits. Still more significantly, the figure for Quebec was 60%. People in Quebec's small and medium businesses are not sovereignists particularly nor people likely to be sitting on our side of the House. They are industrialists, business people, the community, owners of small and medium businesses, and they are they ones saying, 60% of them, that they would rather have tax credits than the intervention of Canada Economic Development.

This has nothing to do with the efficiency or lack of it of individual departmental employees, who are doing the best they can under the circumstances. For a structure like this one within the Canadian system to be effective, it would have to be decided that regional economic development is a federal responsibility, and then the federal government would have to make the necessary funds available to those employees.

Small scale programs are being put forward in every region. The government is trying to make the most of these so as to have as many economic benefits as possible. However, when we look at the payroll that is actually paid out and made available to companies compared to the department's fixed operating costs, it is clear there is room for improvement and a new vision completely different from that introduced by the minister in Bill C-9, an act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

Even more insidious is that the current act, as written and in force, states that the agency must promote economic development in the regions of Quebec where inadequate employment and slow economic growth are prevalent.

Yet this clause promoting the agency's intervention in areas having specific problems has been omitted from the new agency's object. This is absurd. We have discussed the principle that there is no need for the federal government to involve itself in this sector. However, if it does choose to do so, this clause removes the government's responsibility to intervene in those regions most needing help. This creates a messy situation.

There are now two departments involved, the Department of Industry, which has all the means available to it, and the Department of Regional Development, which has no means available and which has lost its reason for being, that it exists to help those regions most in need.

Moreover, the clause inherent in the agency's object has been removed, and the new act gives direct authority to the minister to establish as a designated area, for an indeterminate period, any region in Quebec where exceptional circumstances provide opportunities for improvements in employment.

In fact, it might be pertinent to be able to do so, but we must ensure that it is structured correctly; it is not just a question of political partisanship leading the way, which may lead to something other than desirable outcomes in terms of economic development.

This new act is a clear step backward for the regions of Quebec currently struggling with problems of economic growth or insufficient employment, because their recognition as a designated area would become conditional on the goodwill of the minister rather than being based on objective criteria as it is now.

I have an aside to make here. Recently we have been discussing RCMP staffing in the regions. There was a decision that will, today, I hope, be overturned following the presentation by the mayors to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. That decision was to withdraw personnel from all over the regions.

This kind of behaviour by the federal government, coming from within the Department of Justice, will now be justified and legitimized by the amendment to the act. It is as if there was finally some backing up. Previously, there was a commitment to intervene in the regions where the need was greatest. Now, the minister will be able to decide which regions these are, and, in the end, it will become a much more partisan decision that it was before. Therefore, this bill presents no added value.

In fact, by handing over the general guidelines for intervention to the political level, Bill C-9 hides another flaw, that of taking another step toward the achievement of the Liberal government's objective of investing as much as possible in Quebec's fields of jurisdiction, which will lead to increased confrontation with the Government of Quebec.

For a number of years, the Government of Quebec has had regional development structures in place, including the CLDs or Centres locaux de développement, which are now governed by the regional county municipalities. The current Liberal government in Quebec is a federalist government , which has to live with both structures. All over Quebec, right now, there are two structures. I do not believe this is the best way to achieve objectives.

Something much more practical and consistent with Quebec's structure could have been done by delegating the necessary resources to Quebec. It would essentially have involved coming back to something similar to what the Department of Regional Economic Expansion used to do. Expenditures to be made in Quebec were made under agreements between Quebec City and Ottawa. This ensured consistency between Quebec's policies and the federal government's involvement. That has changed.

There are currently enough areas of federal responsibility, including international trade, to move forward and have the federal government look after those areas within its jurisdiction without enacting legislation that will basically move Quebec backward instead of forward.

We know that, to justify introducing this bill, the federal government is referring to similar legislation passed previously with respect to the Maritimes and western Canada. But there is a fundamental difference where these regions are concerned. In the Maritimes and western Canada, the legislation was requested by the provinces, which did not have their own department or ministry responsible for regional development.

It is different in Quebec, where this is a major department with a past record which speaks volumes, and which is getting interesting results. The Government in Quebec has put a great deal of effort into putting in place the appropriate regional development structures. Decentralization activities have already been carried out. The current federalist Liberal government even conducted an operation to make elected representatives more accountable.

Now, a second structure would be added next to the existing one, when that is not necessarily desirable. It is not relevant to take the example of the Maritimes or western Canada to justify establishing such a department in Quebec. It is unacceptable for the federal government to try and meddle in this area of provincial responsibility.

According to Canada Economic Development officials themselves, Bill C-9 does not bring anything to the agency, from an administrative point of view or in terms of new money. Therefore, it is nothing but a new structure to promote nation building by the Liberal government which, following the 1995 referendum, decided to invest in Quebec's jurisdictions and to aggressively increase its visibility in that province by taking advantage of its huge surpluses and its spending power.

What could the Liberal government have done to meet the real needs of the regions? Instead of constantly getting involved in Quebec's jurisdictions and duplicating services in a totally unproductive fashion, the federal government should—but currently refuses to do so—withdraw from regional development. However, if it absolutely wants to continue to get involved, it should at least make sure that it will improve the services that come under its own responsibilities.

The first thing that it should do is to adjust federal programs to the regions' realities. The number of battles that must be fought to ensure that federal programs finally become flexible enough to apply to Quebec is simply unbelievable. Moreover, this necessitates energy that should not have to be expended like this.

The best example in this regard is the mad cow issue. If the necessary flexibility had been there, things could have been different a long time ago for Quebec, even by merely recognizing that, in our province, we had a traceability system that should have exempted us from the ban that resulted from the discovery of the mad cow disease. Indeed, in Quebec we were already able to identify sick animals and to determine their origin. Therefore, the impact of the problem could have been confined and we could have avoided turning this into a world issue that adversely affected all producers in Quebec and Canada.

The federal government administration should also be less concentrated. The staff reductions of recent years were made in the regions, in the areas where the links were the weakest. This way the powers and the personnel that is left is now concentrated in Ottawa. The result of this is that the government's vision of what regional development should be is somewhat disconnected from the reality. Also, when the government began to enjoy surpluses, it created a number of jobs, but it is Ottawa that benefited.

We would like for the programs—if they are maintained—to be more regionally based and for there to be truer decentralization of powers in order to ensure that decisions apply to each of our regions of the country.

The federal government must also bring capital spending back to an acceptable level and substantially increase the regional development budget of Quebec, which is three times lower than in the Maritimes. Accordingly, the money available could be paid to Quebec and the amounts paid have to be much higher.

Our fellow citizens have noticed that the federal government has a $9 billion surplus. Meanwhile, they also notice that it is very difficult to get the money necessary to stimulate research and development in our regions and to ensure that our small businesses have access to programs to help them be competitive in the new global reality.

Accelerating and simplifying operational modes is needed to make companies competitive and to have products in the appropriate niche markets so that we can assume our responsibilities and maintain and develop employment rather than have a defensive policy like the one we have now. People in the textile sector are being told, “We will give just $25 million, nothing more. Deal with the influx of products from China, India and Pakistan and fend for yourself because we cannot help you any more than we already are right now”.

When people hear that, and then on the other hand, see the Minister of Finance announce a $9 billion surplus, they think that it is basically as if someone had decided to pay off their mortgage in five years and starve their family just to pay it off as soon as possible. Here too there are signs that the federal government has not assumed its responsibilities with regard to regional development.

The fact that there has been no indepth reform of the employment insurance plan is the most obvious sign of its lack of sensitivity. The Bloc Québécois arrived here in 1993. At that time the Liberals promised a real reform of the employment insurance plan. Mr. Chrétien made that promise during the Liberal leadership campaign when he said that there would be positive reforms for the unemployed. There is even a letter confirming it. As soon as he came to power, he did just the opposite: he tightened the screws, restricted eligibility and deprived the regions of a regional development tool, a tool to stabilize economic activities that is no longer there.

Without having compensation programs to jump start the regional economy, at the same time they closed down a source of reinvestment in the region that was very helpful and made it possible to maintain the social covenant between the resource regions of Quebec and Canada and central Canada. In the past, industrialization occurred mostly in urban centres, and resource regions had employment insurance to compensate for the fact that they lived off seasonal employment.

The federal government's lack of sensitivity in this respect cost it dearly during the past four elections and yet it still has not heard the message that it should carry out a real reform of the employment insurance plan. It is easy to understand why people are concerned when they are told that a new agency will be created under the authority of the Minister for Regional Development, who will no longer necessarily have to reinvest in the regions that need it the most but will be able to choose the regions that he will develop. That way the agency will reach conclusions that will not be in the best interest of Quebec's economic development.

When this bill is referred to committee, if it is passed by the majority in this House, it will have to be changed entirely to at least ensure that the current situations do not deteriorate. We must bring back the fact that the vocation may be limited and ensure that it will apply to Quebec regions that need particular assistance, as was provided in the current act. We must ensure that there is no partisanship, in order to promote the development of economic activities in our regions.

We are now living an economic reality that is totally different from what it was 10 years ago. The whole manufacturing sector is facing an extraordinary challenge. We see this particularly in my region, for example, Montmagny, where we have experienced major closures. Currently, many businesses have difficulty remaining competitive with other countries of the world. It looks like the federal government does not adapt quickly enough to these new realities. It is always behind.

The bill before us will not ensure that the government's action will allow businesses to continue to compete, to move forward and to maintain their jobs. It is important that parliamentarians in this House are aware that we must decide whether or not the federal government is to continue to intervene in the way that it has in the past, with the results that we know. The auditor general herself raised major issues on the effectiveness of the current department.

The fact that the government brings us today this type of bill does not appear to me as the best way to intervene in order to help regional economic development in Quebec. This is why the Bloc Québécois, at this stage, will vote against the bill. Indeed, it goes entirely against Quebec's development objectives. It is not the proper tool to promote harmonious development in Quebec or to face new world competition.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Beauce Québec

Liberal

Claude Drouin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Rural Communities)

Mr. Speaker, there are considerable contradictions in my colleague's comments, so many that it is dizzying. He says that Bill C-9 is going to end up disconnecting us from the regions, whereas Canada Economic Development, with its 14 regions, is all over Quebec.

We have taken strategic regional initiatives in conjunction with the local people in order to ensure that the programs in place will meet the need. That is what Economic Development does, and will continue to do under the new legislation.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

I would ask the hon. Bloc member to listen to me, as I have listened. The hon. member could do likewise on the other side.

This is important; this bill gives greater autonomy. We have committed to doubling Canada Economic Development budgets within five years, for what we want to do, and we do it well.

The hon. member referred to the CLDs, and there are the CFDCs, or community futures development corporations. With these, the local people are working with Canada Economic Development to meet the needs of the people and the regions, paying particular attention to regions with specific problems. This is important.

From the other side of the House, the Bloc side, we are hearing that this is an international problem and hence a federal responsibility, and we ought to be putting programs in place. I am thinking about softwood lumber. Then they are telling us that it needs to be transferred to Quebec and they will deal with it. Yet if it is an international matter, then they will be asking us what the federal level is doing about it, and we are powerless to intervene.

They seem to be two totally opposite stances here, and I find it a bit mind-boggling. The Bloc Québécois member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou got it in the neck, as the public told him that they wanted Canada Economic Development and pointed out the Bloc's position. The people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean—not a particularly federalist area—say that they want Canada Economic Development to remain because it works with the community and with the Government of Quebec. Everyone works together to meet the needs of the people.

I think the Bloc Québécois members ought to have another look at their positions, look at what can be done, and work along with us to ensure that economic development is addressed in the spirit of harmony in our regions. That is what the people need.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, we will start by speaking of regional economic strategies. In the Montmagny area, 600 employees were laid off by the Whirlpool plant, last year. I wrote to the industry minister who, at that time, was also regional economic development minister and who is now intergovernmental affairs minister, to ask her to put in place such a strategy. I have yet to get an answer.

After the election, I called her again. Still no answer. I think we deserved such an intervention in our area, having lost 600 jobs, but it never happened. Nothing positive was done.

Something else occurred. A survey of business people, of customers who do business with regional economic development was conducted. The results obtained from the Quebec federation of independent businesses show that 60% of the respondents preferred tax credits in terms of regional intervention. Effectively, we saw in the past that interventions were motivated more by partisan choices that by anything else.

For those who own a small-or a medium-sized business, and where that creates undue competition, this situation is unacceptable.

Here is the most important element. You have given the example of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. It is obvious that Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean still needs help. It is a region that has been hit severely. However, with the bill introduced by the federal government, the agency will no longer devote its energy to the most disadvantaged regions. This priority is being eliminated, and the minister will decide what regions will be designated. I think that in this case people are right to worry and to ask questions.

The people who live in the regions facing financial difficulties try everything possible to make a go of it. They want to be sure to keep all the lifelines, and that is easy to understand. The message sent by the federal government must also be clear in this respect. The fact that that bill puts an end to the possibility of focusing on the regions that are worst off, which is an advantage, is certainly not a good thing for the industry.

Let us talk about community futures development corporations. In each community, people serving on management boards are the ones who try their best given the prevailing conditions. They have to conclude agreements with the CLDs in order to avoid the complications arising from the existence of two systems.

I am not casting doubt on the efficiency of the people working in the CFDCs. I am saying that we have a system in which two governments are intervening in a sector where a single one would be a lot more efficient.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin this intervention, as I have before, by thanking the interpreters who work in those little glass booths. Without them, as a unilingual Canadian, I would be unable to understand about what the member had talked. I so appreciate their work.

I listened very carefully to the very articulate member from the Bloc. He mentioned that it would be perhaps better to have a reduction in taxation levels so their businesses could compete with one another. I got from that an undercurrent. I would ask, why should the federal government be in Quebec or any province picking winners and losers?

Bill C-9 would give the minister the right to plan, implement, direct and manage programs and projects or offer services to improve the economic environment in Quebec, including programs, projects and services, supports to business associations, conferences, studies, consultations, trade shows, demonstration products and market research. It gives the government the right to collect and disseminate data. The federal government is really good at running a data bank. We learned that with the gun control system.

Here is another one. The Liberals can pick to whom they want to give a loan and for whom they want to guarantee the repayment. I love this one, they can make grants and contributions. If those words do not throw up a red flag, especially in the province of Quebec, I would be very surprised.

I could go on and on, but I am not giving a speech. Surely, the member would rather say that the federal government should get out of picking winners and losers in Quebec and let Quebec entrepreneurs fend for themselves on an equal and level playing field.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments, but I would like to point out that the statistics I spoke of were taken from the study done by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The study found that 60% of those surveyed favour tax credits over the federal government's current method of intervention through the Economic Development Agency of Canada.

I am not criticizing the government's interventions, but I would say that this statistic leads us to conclude that businesspeople, who are the clients, are not satisfied with the way things are being handled. Intervention may well be necessary, therefore, and everyone has always agreed that it is the government's responsibility to intervene. However, the way in which it does so has been deemed unacceptable. Basically, this bill, which has been introduced and debated, leads us to question this principle. Is this the best way to go? The Bloc Québécois says no.

I would like to add some information about an earlier question. Let me say a few words about that. I am being told, “But you want us to deal with the softwood lumber issue”. This matter is within federal jurisdiction over international trade. It is the federal government that led us to the front line, and we agreed to confront the Americans under its leadership. The problem is, that once the companies agreed to fight, they were left to fend for themselves with the lumber crisis. The unemployed also had to manage with fewer weeks' employment. We condemn the federal government for not living up to this part of the agreement.

As a matter of fact, we are asking the federal government to make sure that when it decides to fight over some international issue, it supports its partners properly. Two years ago, when it was decided to open our market to textiles from less developed countries, the government should have provided programs to help our own industry survive. Our attitude towards less developed countries is excellent, but, on the other side the predicament our clothing and textile industries are in is the federal government's responsibility. It should make sure we can adjust to changing markets as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Ultimately, this is not a regional development issue. It is a matter of the sense of responsibility of the federal government. It should assume its responsibilities. This is what we find fault with.

As concerns regional development per se, I will repeat what I said at the outset, and I will conclude with this. Over the last 25 years, especially in the Gaspé, the present government has been proven that Canadian federalism does not work.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, although the NDP supports Bill C-9 in principle, there is a missed opportunity with the bill. I believe my colleague from the Bloc spoke very eloquently around some of the challenges the bill does not address.

We need very strong policies that support regional development and we need a federal government that sets a framework to allow communities to determine their destiny. One thing we know about effective community economic development is that it builds long term community capacity and fosters the integration of not only economic but social and environmental activities.

The intention of community economic development is individual and community self-reliance through collaborative action, capacity building and returning control of business enterprises, capital, labour and other resources to communities. This fact often gets lost in the discussion of economic development. We will notice that many references to economic development omit communities. The social and environmental activity is so critical and it should be included in that discussion.

There are some basic tools around community economic development that the bill does not address, and the discussion is not taking place in the larger capacity. Community economic development talks about capacity building and making more with less in communities. It talks about making money circulate within communities before it leaves communities. It talks about import replacement, which means making things within our communities instead of bringing them in from outside. It talks about making brand new products within our communities.

We need targeted long term policies that promote and support domestic economies. We need to talk about financing. We need meaningful funds for job creation so when we are hit with things like softwood lumber, we can look to community economic development within our communities. We need effective community development corporations so decisions are made in the communities which will bring about that kind of job creation that we know is so critical. We need to support downtown development authorities. We need loan funds for a full range of entrepreneurs.

We also need to effectively promote buy local strategies, which includes government procurement. Therefore, when we have federal government agencies in local communities, they need to have a development strategy on buying local. We need tax incentives that support buying local. We need meaningful skills and business training that supports community economic development. The bill does not address any of that. I would hope at the committee level we have that kind of discussion on building our local economy.

Part of this discussion should be about environmental responsibilities in terms of green businesses. This can include tax incentives, government retrofit, attraction and retention of business strategies and energy conservation. We also need targeted subsidies and funding so we can get what we measure, and that is supporting local business.

Research and development funds are not easily accessible for local communities either. We need community supported agriculture. My community in Nanaimo--Cowichan is a good example. We need to talk about local strategies that not only support agri-business and agri-tourism, but support buying local as well. We need to reclaim our communities and grow them without sacrificing liveability.

Community economic development also needs to include a small business policy. I will talk about British Columbia for a moment. In British Columbia nearly half of all jobs in 2003 were generated by small business. Yet we do not have an effective strategy in community economic development that looks at growing small business.

It is a myth about foreign trade. Currently only 20% of our GDP is foreign trade. Yet we have this focus on foreign trade that ignores 80% of our GDP. In 2002 Statistics Canada said that 80% of Canadian exports were accounted for by 4% of Canadian companies. Where is the support for our small local businesses when those kinds of statistics do not bear the kind of subsidies that are out there? We need an industrial policy that adequately addresses the needs of small business, which not only talks about small business retention, but includes small business expansion and development of new small businesses.

Another thing that is not adequately addressed in our economic development policy are the issues around rural communities. The definition of a rural community is community of less than 50,000 people. Many of our small rural communities have populations of 1,000, 5,000 to 10,000. Policies that cover rural communities of 50,000 do not address the needs of small communities of 1,000.

This is where community economic development is even more critical so people have a choice about remaining within their communities rather than having to move to big urban centres. Studies have indicated that rural communities are critical for the survival of the larger urban centres.

In conclusion, although we support the bill in principle, I would urge the committee to have the comprehensive discussion that is required around meaningful community economic development which will allow our small communities to remain viable and liveable.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I wish to explain why we are opposing Bill C-9, an act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. I will also speak to the reality of socio-economic development in the regions of Quebec.

Why are we opposing Bill C-9? This bill establishes a department for regional development. For Quebeckers, this is a new form of duplication and federal infringement which does not meet the needs of local communities. As a matter of fact, the government's bill would place the development of the regions of Quebec under the discretion of the federal minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

This bill clearly identifies all the regions of Quebec as areas in which the federal government is responsible for development. Yet, Quebec already has a regional development department responsible for planning, organizing and coordinating development activities through CREs, the Conseils régionaux des élus, which replaced CRDs, CLDs, CFDCs and many other local programs and agencies. RCMs are also playing an increasingly important role in terms of local and community economic development. Therefore, we have a number of players. We have a large development structure which meets the needs of our communities. Why fix what is not broken?

Under the Constitution, Quebec is responsible for most areas pertaining to the development of regions. The fact that there are three levels of government with different development goals has made it difficult, in recent years, to have a common vision for regional development and consistent local development practices. As you know, these three levels are the federal, the provincial and the municipal governments.

Many years have passed—I, for one, have been involved in local development for several years—and many consultation meetings were held before all the stakeholders and agencies in one region could know and understand each other and their respective goals, whether at the federal, provincial or even municipal level.

The decentralization of powers to citizens, a new local development strategy implemented about 20 years ago, has been very successful. Over time, every organization faced with the same socio-economic issues in our areas have managed to develop a shared vision for action in their communities. It was not easy at first. We had the CFDCs, which had their own local development policies and practices and which were under federal direction. We had the LDBs which were under provincial direction. Finally, the RCMs arrived, with their direction often coming from municipal institutions. There were months of consensus building before all these people built a shared vision for the development of their territories.

It has now been realized. The tools are there. What we now lack is money to support the various local community initiatives. Bill C-9 is disrupting this cohesion, this consensus built along the way among stakeholders and organizations. This bill introduces new rules that are not wanted in Quebec.

What we want is for the federal government to respect Quebec's jurisdiction and expertise and to adapt its federal programs to the reality of the regions. The federal government should adapt its policies to the reality of Quebec regions, and not the other way around, as is currently the case.

Allow me to give a few examples. Federal programs are often aimed at large cities, and thus exclude regional participation. The strategic infrastructure fund is a good example since its objective is to fund projects of such magnitude that small rural municipalities are excluded.

In this regard, the Quebec government adopted in December 2001 a national rural policy to support the development of the Quebec rural communities.

Instead of creating yet another new institution, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, and investing in new institutions, should the federal government not simply transfer money to Quebec, and invest for example in these rural development funds that support initiatives called rural pacts? These projects lack funds. The federal government could simply transfer money to these institutions because they do have a lot of projects. The socio-economic development structures already exist. The addition of new structures is not a solution.

Moreover, if the federal government wants to support regional development, often referred to as local development, it could start by supporting the introduction of a new infrastructure program for municipalities and providing them with better financial support. Our small rural municipalities are having a very hard time renovating their water and sewage systems and their infrastructure. We really need a good infrastructure policy. This would help to promote regional and municipal development.

Furthermore, it could also overhaul employment insurance, because the regions have paid heavily as a result of decisions made by the Liberal government. This government's EI policies have excluded a significant portion of rural populations and led to an exodus of young people to major urban centres as a result of cuts to EI and the inaction of the federal government with regard to its EI policies.

A good EI policy, adapted to seasonal workers, could be part of a federal intervention and would doubtless be more successful than Bill C-9, which simply duplicates Quebec's regional policy.

Cuts to EI have swelled the exodus of young people, as I mentioned, in addition to causing recruitment problems for companies providing seasonal employment. As for these EI cuts, when people ended up with 15 weeks of EI benefits in one summer or one winter, they had to go on welfare. Instead of turning to welfare, some people are moving to the major urban centres, which creates a void in rural areas. This contradicts a regional development policy. I suggest that the federal government begin addressing these issues before developing a so-called regional development policy.

Since Ottawa is suddenly interested in the fate of the regions, it needs to know that EI reform is a concrete way to help them climb out of the poverty into which it plunged them.

As for the $428 million allocated to the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, that money should be transferred to Quebec, because the Quebec government already has a regional development policy. The creation of a federal department would only perpetuate this duplication. The regions need assistance, not quarrels between Quebec and Canada.

In short, this new legislation is a clear step backward for the regions of Quebec dealing with troubled economic growth, declining population and devitalization. This bill, which does not include any new funding, is therefore just one more exercise in nation building by a federal government that, after the 1995 referendum, decided to invest in areas under Quebec jurisdiction and raise its profile in Quebec by using its massive surpluses and its spending power to do so.

The Liberal government must resolve the fiscal imbalance if it truly wants to meet the real needs of the regions of Quebec.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not planning on speaking to this bill. However, as speeches have been made, I have been listening and looking at the bill. I have a number of things that we should seriously question with respect to Bill C-9.

I find it absolutely atrocious that the Liberal government has gone ahead and implemented this whole program without parliamentary approval. We find under this Prime Minister the same illness that we had under the previous Prime Minister, Mr. Chrétien. Parliament is just an annoyance. It is just something that has to go through.

The government has actually had this agency in place for two years. For two years it has had budgets in the estimates of around half a billion dollars per year. It has been doing it without parliamentary approval. It has come here now and expecting Parliament to just rubber stamp what it is already doing. In a sense, we are in fact rubber stamping it and I think we probably have no choice. The thing is already being done.

It would be unwise for us to be against this particular bill because of the turmoil that it would cause for all the people who are employed in this program and in the work that they are doing in Quebec. Yet, at the same time, the sequence is wrong. We ought to hold the Liberal government accountable for its arrogance and for its presumptions.

I have huge problems, when I read in this bill, as I mentioned in one of my interventions earlier, about the government's ability to make grants and contributions. What a scandal that is. I cannot believe that the Bloc are actually favouring this bill because it is obvious that the Government of Canada, as long as the Liberals are in power, will simply be picking its Liberal friends to start businesses. Look at what happened in the former Prime Minister's riding, where his friends got money, grants and guaranteed loans in order to build a hotel in which the former Prime Minister himself had a financial interest.

That is the type of thing we invite when we have this kind of agency instead of having it at arm's length. I look at, for example, the powers of the minister. In this bill, the minister can totally control who gets the money and guaranteed loans. I am concerned about the fact that the minister may make regulations, which means the minister in charge who is part of the prime ministerial team. He can do that in order to exploit the opportunities for improvements in employment as identified in a designated area, as well as regulations specially applicable to that area or community which may be made under the authority of this section that vary from regulations of general application to Quebec.

We have the federal government looking at a specific region in a province, and having the right and the power to override other regulations, and to make grants, contributions and advertisements. All these grants and contributions have been such a scandal in the previous government's administration.

I am deeply concerned about the fact that the government is now seeking parliamentary approval for what it is already doing and giving it additional powers over what it already has in terms of interfering and picking economic winners and losers. I just cannot see that for the long run and in the broad perspective of our country that this is a good thing to do. I needed to get that off my chest.