Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address this important motion on the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which reads as follows:
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your Committee has considered a motion in the name of the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin and has agreed to report the following:
That the Committee recommend that the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport (YTM) be recognized as an airport of entry into Canada, without customs charges being imposed for regular commercial flights, as is the case with the airports in Montreal and Quebec City.
A number of things that just took place in this debate deserve an immediate comment.
It is clear that the Conservative government asks members to talk about a bill without being at all prepared to do so, without checking the facts. That is amazing. The very wording of the report explains what the issue is all about. Regular commercial flights are being targeted. The government's spokesperson—the Conservatives have such contempt that they do not even send a minister—claims that this is not the case. It is incredible to be here and to see that, despite all the resources at its disposal, the government would delegate someone to utter such nonsense, to make such foolish remarks in this House.
The issue before us today is simply a matter of regional economic development. However, it is as if the very notion of regional economic development, particularly in Quebec, is anathema to the Conservative government. One just has to look at the contemptuous attitude displayed by the minister, who is showing off and travelling in Quebec, just like Maurice Duplessis, as a Quebec minister recently pointed out, to distribute his little envelopes of taxpayers' money for projects that he, alone, decides to support.
Shortly after the holidays, I was in Rimouski and I revisited a centre that I had had the pleasure of visiting before, when I was Quebec's minister of sustainable development, environment and parks. I am referring to Rimouski's marine biotechnology research centre. That centre is truly one of those regional economic development gems that Quebec seems to have a knack for creating. And it is because it is so successful that the Conservatives want to destroy it.
It is a little as though Mont Tremblant were starting to get a bit embarrassing. It is too successful, so the government is going to start putting obstacles in its way. That is what is happening here today. There is no real reason for this sort of discrimination against Mont Tremblant airport, aside from the fact that the government gives preference to other airports in Canada, where such rules do not apply. That is how the Conservatives discriminate against Quebec, and I for one have had just about enough of it.
With their questions and comments, the Conservatives are trying once again to tell us that their problems are the Liberals' fault, but enough is enough. They have been in power for two and a half years, even though they have a minority government. It is about time they stepped up to the plate for the good of everyone.
Under our Constitution, aeronautics and customs are federal responsibilities. When it comes to customs, the government should at least apply the same rules everywhere.
The motion is very clear. The Rivière Rouge international airport should be treated like other international airports, meaning as an airport of entry, with no customs charges on regular commercial flights. What is the problem? This is how all other airports are treated. The Bloc member responsible for this issue made that point. The member who represents the riding could not have been clearer.
This is not an answer. It is ridiculous for the Conservatives to keep rising and blaming the Liberals. Certainly, the Liberals are incompetent. That is why they are no longer in government. But the Conservatives have to start shouldering their responsibilities when it comes to this international airport.
When I talk with Americans, to give them an idea of the size of Quebec, I like to remind them that Quebec is two and a half times the size of Texas. It is an image they can grasp quite quickly. When I talk with Europeans, I like to tell them that Quebec is three times the size of France, which has the largest area of any European country. It is a striking image that also reminds us, given our population, that Quebec is a huge land mass that we need to develop in, of course, a sustainable and viable way.
Tourism is the one thing we have to bring people to a region. We are doing all we can to have protected areas, national parks and so on. We have wonderful resorts and people come here from all over the world.
Let us not forget that tourism is the number one industry in Quebec. Over the years, as my colleagues explained, we have succeeded in investing considerable amounts of money in this airport to ensure that any regional economic development initiative takes into account not only the environment but also various socio-economic aspects, and it pays off. Jobs have been created; it works. Governments at all levels have been involved in this file for years and it is now producing results and generating spinoffs in neighbouring regions.
So why such a relentless attitude on the part of the Conservatives? They are always there to throw obstacles in the way of any initiative that has to do with regional economic development in Quebec. We have to wonder.
Since we are on the subject of air transportation and small airports, it is important to remind members of what is happening at the Mascouche airport. This issue will soon be coming back to the House since the federal government's commitment to that airport will end in 2011. In fact, it even seems that if the city of Mascouche is able to repay its debt to the federal government, that airport could disappear even sooner. However, the threat that is already hanging over the second largest uncontrolled airport in Canada, after Buttonville, in Ontario, is a hindrance to development.
In Mascouche, five flying schools generate 75 permanent jobs. But there is more: in terms of regional economic activity for tourism in the greater Montreal area, that airport is crucial. Recently, legal proceedings between the city and the Government of Quebec have been initiated to determine who has a right of release. It is a complicated matter and I will not get into the details of what is before the courts.
Nonetheless, this proves the extent to which the government must assume its responsibility to ensure that this part of our infrastructure is maintained and preserved. The federal government must intervene to ensure the survival of the Mascouche airport and ensure that the Rivière Rouge international airport in the Upper Laurentians is treated the same as other Canadian airports. The current situation makes no sense.
I will read an excerpt from a letter from Gilles Lapierre, president of Aviateurs et pilotes de brousse du Québec:
The Mascouche airport is the largest uncontrolled airport in Quebec and the second largest in Canada. It accommodates 15 aviation related businesses, including 5 flight schools, and employs 75 people. Its geographic location makes it a leading private and commercial aviation training centre and it is recognized as the place where pilots from the metropolitan area cut their teeth. It is also a strategic centre for volunteer search and rescue operators and for transporting the sick, the injured and organs to local health institutions, including the Lachenaie hospital centre currently being built [the construction is now completed] and it is used as an alternate airport for Dorval and Mirabel...
This is another airport matter that will soon be studied in this House. Nonetheless, if the government keeps on serving up people who do not have even have ministerial responsibility to replace ministers in matters such as this, we will end up with the same result and will have to find a solution here in this House. We will be forced to stand up and ask questions to figure out what is at stake. Is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
I want to make it clear that although this is a minority government, it still has responsibilities. We have a Minister of Transport. He is the überminister for everything that moves in Quebec. I am anxious to see what the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities will do to save the Mascouche airport. It is not the municipality's fault. I am not criticizing Mayor Marcotte, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years. He does his job as mayor and has his own strictly local concerns, and that is normal. He tries to do his best with his own priorities.
Nonetheless, the federal government must have a broader vision and look from a higher vantage point at regional economic development and infrastructure such as airports, like the Rivière Rouge airport at issue today, or the one I just mentioned, closer to Montreal in the Mascouche area.
We are very disappointed in the federal government's attitude towards this infrastructure and towards economic development in Quebec in general. What we are discussing today is only the tip of the iceberg.
I had the chance to play a part in the development of this airport when I sat in the Quebec cabinet. I know the Laurentians well—my family hails from that region—and I appreciate the area, which has always struck me as important given geopolitics and economic development in Quebec.
It is sad that no one in this government's cabinet, which boasts about supporting the recognition of the Quebec nation, can make their colleagues understand occasionally that they will be severely criticized the next day in the House of Commons because they were asleep at the switch again. They should be wondering if there is anything they can do to help the airport.
Previous federal governments, the Quebec government and municipalities went to great effort to build an airport at Mont-Tremblant, this important site for developing tourism and therefore regional economy in the Upper Laurentians, and that effort is beginning to pay off.
Could the government do something intelligent? Apparently not. They send in someone who is not even the minister responsible for this file with explanations obviously prepared by junior employees, who did not even have the intelligence or common sense to study the file and learn what it is about.
The answer I heard earlier was shocking. It was absolutely shocking to hear a Conservative representative say earlier that we are not talking about regularly scheduled flights. The Bloc members were quick to correct him. Let him rest his mind for a moment. I will read the recommendation to him once again so that he will understand:
That the Committee recommend that the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport (YTM) be recognized as an airport of entry into Canada, without customs charges being imposed for regular commercial flights--
Did the member understand that?
“for regular commercial flights”.
That is what we want. Our colleague should not start talking about something else. He should not just repeat what he has in his papers prepared by department officials. He should take three seconds to read the official document from the committee that he has right in front of him and try to understand what we are saying. Maybe then he will see how shocking it is for us, who have been trying for years to prioritize regional development all across Quebec and in the rest of Canada too, to hear someone in the House simply ignore the clear wording of the resolution before us, talk about something completely different, and blame the Liberals and the previous government. He should stand up and start assuming his responsibilities.
While on the subject of assuming responsibilities, I want to extent an invitation to the Liberals. I just listened to my colleague from a riding in the Outaouais region imploring the government from the very bottom of his heart. For 20 minutes he bent our ears about the “aréoport”. The document I have in front of me, though, is about an “aéroport”. Maybe he was talking about something else, but in my document the é comes before the r. He went on for 20 minutes about the “aréoport” but should just learn instead to stop begging the Conservatives. He should just stand up and vote with us to defeat this Conservative government.
As usual, his are empty words. The Liberals are incapable of standing up straight. They do not actually believe in anything. They rise here in the House, they make fine speeches in favour of regional economic development, and they ask questions about the cuts currently being made to institutes like the Marine Biotechnology Research Centre in Rimouski. But the only concrete thing they are capable of doing is cutting back and imposing rules and restrictions on facilities and infrastructure in Quebec that do not exist in the rest of Canada.
That is really what we are talking about today. When it comes to Quebec, the Conservatives impose restrictions and additional costs that do not apply in the rest of Canada for similar things under similar circumstances.
Instead of reading us papers prepared by his staff, instead of pretending the Bloc members are wrong to say these are regular flights, can the hon. member just take two minutes to read the resolution before us? The report could hardly be clearer. All people want is equal treatment for the Rivière-Rouge airport in comparison with what is done in other jurisdictions in Canada. The wording could hardly be any clearer in this regard.
Although the Conservative government still tries to make us believe it is interested in Quebec and the development of Quebec, everything it does proves just the opposite. People often say in English:
“You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk”.
The Quebec version of this is even more colourful and much better: “Il faut que les bottines suivent les babines”. The Conservatives need to start not just talking the talk but walking the walk when it comes to regional economic development.