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.