House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was region.


Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

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.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I know the new member for Outremont was a wonderful member in Quebec and accomplished all kinds of great things but, unfortunately, he is with the NDP and will only have the opportunity to run off, as he has done this morning.

The member suggests that we have ignored Quebec. I am wondering if the new member is fully aware of the $43.5 million we put into infrastructure in Mont Tremblant and whether he is as fully aware, as he thinks he is, of the other 14 airports in Canada that are paying the same types of fees as are being paid at Mont Tremblant.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, it would probably be best for me to answer my knowledgeable colleague in English.

What the member has just said is completely false. It is not borne out by the facts.

First, as has been amply demonstrated by the Bloc and the NDP who have moved this motion, Mont Tremblant is the only airport in Canada to have such fees imposed on regular commercial flights, full stop.

Second, I know it is difficult and maybe the member has trouble so I will read the motion for him again. It states:

That the Committee recommend that the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International recognized as an airport of entry into Canada, without customs charges being imposed for regular commercial flights....

That is the condition in the text, nothing else. Therefore, would he please stop embroidering and inventing and read the text and then come to a decision. The rest of it is of no interest to us or anyone else in the region.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.


Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Outremont for arguing on behalf of my region. After calling a number of things into question in his speech, he mentioned the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Quebec lieutenant, whose riding, it just so happens, abuts mine. His riding surely benefits from the economic spinoff of tourists coming to the region.

The member was wondering what the minister planned to do. Here is a hint. As I pointed out twice in my speech, we asked for a meeting with the minister, the Quebec lieutenant, to come up with solutions and ask him to put pressure on the Conservative government. Twice, we were told that his agenda was full and that he did not have time to meet with us. That happened with other ministers from other departments that are involved too. We repeatedly asked them for meetings with elected officials from my region. We were not asking for a social gathering. People needed a meeting about this issue as quickly as possible.

It is clear that the Conservative government does not really know how to govern. It understands neither good governance nor ethics. How can the government turn down requests to meet with its citizens?

Several of the people who are now members of the House of Commons have been active at other levels of government, such as at the National Assembly of Quebec. I myself worked for a Quebec member. When a group asks for a meeting to discuss an important issue or file, it is the minister's duty to meet with that group. That is what being polite and ethical means. Those of us who get elected, who represent our country, who represent the people of our riding and who have a seat in a legislative body have an obligation to respond to the people. This government has an obligation to deal with the people. Their position on this is absurd.

I do not know what the member for Outremont thinks of this. He was once a member of the National Assembly, so can he comment on this?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who just asked this question.

Sometimes, I receive many requests for meetings. The only time a member of Parliament or minister, whatever his or her responsibilities are, will bluntly refuse such meetings is when the matter is already settled and it is not of any interest any more.

This is the clear message being sent by our überminister, our great Conservative potentate for Quebec. He is telling us very clearly that he is not interested at all in what happens with the Rivière Rouge airport. It is a shame.

I took great care to mention the Mascouche airport, thinking that it must be on his radar screen, but I am not even sure it is. Once again, this is on the northern fringe. We are talking about the only airport between Mascouche and Rivière Rouge, with the exception of Mirabel, with all the turmoil it has experienced, and a very small airport for parachutists near Saint-Jérôme. It is really the only infrastructure of any importance. Others have been lost over the years in the greater Montreal area, and the loss of this airport will be a real problem. The Les Cèdres airport, on the other side, much further away to the west, would be of no interest whatsoever.

People are not sure they want to invest because of this uncertainty in economic development issues. A lot of things depend on the available systems and infrastructure. If they are nonexistent or if there is too much uncertainty, investments are not made and jobs are not created. This shows the silliness of the Conservatives in an issue such as this one. It is really distressing, because in this motion, we are only asking for fair treatment, the same treatment other, similar airports get elsewhere in Canada.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really liked the remarks of our NDP colleague. We appreciate his party’s support. The hon. member drew a parallel with the recognition of the Quebec nation, and I am pleased with that, because a nation also needs economic development.

The Bloc has introduced a number of bills concerning the Quebec nation, and the NDP supported the last one, which provides that the French language charter should apply to jobs under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. We appreciate this support.

We also have another bill to exempt Quebec from Canadian multiculturalism. I presume the NDP will support us once more. I would like to highlight the fact that Mr. Julius Gray gave us his support today for this piece of legislation. I hope the NDP will be on board.

I have a question about commercial flights. Are these flights commercial or are they not? A little earlier, I asked the parliamentary secretary whether this was the basis of his position or whether he thought these are not really regular commercial flights. The motion has been read several times by the member for Outremont, and it appears to me that it emphasizes clearly that it deals only with regular commercial flights.

Does the hon. member think that, if the Conservative position were right—and we do not agree that it is—the Conservatives could very well support the motion, thinking that it does not commit them to anything, since it is not true? Does he agree with this interpretation?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber is quite right. That is exactly it.

I would remind the House that the third report states:

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...

If it is not a matter of regular commercial flights, there is no problem; it does not cost the government a single cent. However, if regular commercial flights are involved, we are merely seeking the same treatment as everywhere else in Canada. Is that clear enough?

It is now up to the Conservatives to explain to us why, from their perspective, this airport should be treated differently from every other airport in Canada in similar situations and circumstances. That is the question.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion before us today. I would like to begin by emphasizing how beautiful the region served by the Mont Tremblant International Airport is. I am very familiar with the area. I am not from that region exactly, but I spent some time in my youth in Saint-Donat, which is nearby. Furthermore, a new road was built a few years ago to link the towns of Saint-Donat, Lac-Supérieur, Mont-Tremblant and others. Thus, we feel a little closer to the people of the Mont Tremblant area, not geographically, but at least in our hearts and in our minds. People from around the world are investing in Mont Tremblant, but more than anything, many people come to relax, to have fun, and to enjoy the magnificent scenery and fantastic tourist attractions.

This corner of our country, of Quebec and even of Canada we could say, has been popular for quite some time. For many years, people mostly from Quebec and the surrounding area have been skiing at Mont Tremblant, enjoying activities in the Mont Tremblant national park and visiting the village's fantastic restaurants. The area's reputation is growing. Residents of the Laurentians and the Lanaudière area have been going there for decades. Then it was discovered by Montrealers, followed by people from Quebec City and many other parts of Quebec. People are travelling from further afield: from the United States, the east coast and even the west coast. How do we get all these people to this fantastic and magnificent region? It takes an air link, that much is rather obvious.

The issue came to the forefront very quickly and led to several developments. People in this community took charge and developed a quality international airport providing regular commercial flights which, interestingly enough, make it possible for travellers from anywhere in the United States, via certain cities, to fly directly to Mont Tremblant. They do not have to land in Montreal and then travel 1.5 hours by land, if there is little traffic which, unfortunately, is not very often the case in Montreal. The situation could deteriorate in the next few years with the repairs, construction and increased road traffic in future.

This international airport, which allows American tourists to fly directly to Mont Tremblant without going through Montreal, is a necessity. The number of passengers, the fact that we can establish regular commercial flights and the economics of this relationship prove that there is a demand and that we have to provide this service. I would like to point out how vital this airport is to the economic development of the region. If the airport were to close, or if unfair or disproportionate conditions were imposed that crippled its operations, the entire region would be affected.

My colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue will certainly agree since this airport also serves more remote regions like Abitibi. I know that because I have talked to people who use it frequently. When leaving the Abitibi region and having to drive through the Laurentian national park, one has already been on the road long enough without having to go all the way to Montreal, especially with all the traffic.

It is an essential economic development tool for a region that has been severely affected by the forestry crisis. Again, it must be said that, in both cases, it is largely due to the incompetence or even the powerlessness of this government. I do not like to use the word “powerlessness” because the government has the ability to do things. If the government really were powerless and could not take action, we could say that it is not its fault since there is nothing it could do. But that is not so. The reality is that it has decided not to take action for reasons that are purely ideological. This is true for both the forestry crisis and the Mont Tremblant airport.

During the forestry crisis, the Bloc Quebecois called for a series of measures to help this industry, be it through refundable tax credits for research or through forward averaging. Concrete measures needed to be taken to help these people get through these difficult times and this government did not answer the call.

Long before that, there was the softwood lumber agreement, which was greatly unfavourable to Quebec and the forestry sector. The agreement was signed and supported by the Bloc Québécois, because our forestry companies were in such a tight spot that there was no other solution but to sign this agreement. Need we be reminded that this agreement was not satisfactory to Quebec and that we could have got much more if we had stood up for ourselves. If the Conservative government—and even the Liberal government before it—had agreed to offer loan guarantees to the companies in question so as to ensure them the liquidity they required to meet their needs, we would not have ended up in this situation. The forestry companies would have been in much better shape financially and we could have continued the legal battle with the United States much longer. We could have won that battle. We would have been in a position of power to negotiate a better agreement. The Conservatives, just like the Liberals before them, did not do it. So we ended up with an agreement that we had to accept reluctantly and that weakened our forestry industry.

What we can see is that there was a series of actions, by both the Liberals in their day and the Conservatives of today, that weakened the forestry industry and that by extension weakened the people of the Mont Tremblant region and the Laurentians in general.

What does that lead us to conclude? First of all, these people pulled themselves together to develop and maintain their forest industry. They did not give up. They are very combative and vigorous people. They also realized that they had to diversify their economy and compensate with other sources of economic activity. Tourism, thanks to the amazing natural setting of this region, the proverbial and legendary hospitality and the welcome extended by these communities, turns out to be a golden economic opportunity to try to make up for the effects of the forestry crisis caused by the negligence of the current government and the previous one.

What is happening? There was plenty of talk about it this morning. We have an airport, which is an economic development driver that attracts tourists—as I said a little earlier in my speech—from Quebec and the United States. People only have to connect to one airport in the United States for access to the rest of that country, and from there they can fly directly to Mont Tremblant.

This is a tool that works well, but there is a problem because the government is imposing unfair and inequitable treatment on it by requiring fees to cover customs services at this airport when it receives regular commercial flights.

It is the only airport in Canada that finds itself in that situation. It is surprising that, when the hon. member for Outremont, or some Bloc Québécois members pointed this out, namely that it is the only airport in Canada in that situation, some Conservative members said that it is not true, that it is not the reality, that it is not the case. We even heard the parliamentary secretary treat a colleague in such a way that I cannot provide details. But the fact is that we heard the parliamentary secretary strongly dispute that statement.

Yet, these Conservative members cannot even name one other airport that is in the same situation. They say it is not true, that there are other ones, but they are not telling us which ones. Is it a state secret? If the information is public in the case of the La Macaza airport, why would it not also be public in the case of other airports? Come on. This is ridiculous.

If the Conservatives know about another Canadian airport that must pay custom charges for regular commercial flights during normal business hours, then let them tell us. Otherwise, as the old saying goes, they should forever hold their peace and stop bothering us and denying the obvious, namely that the Mont Tremblant airport is the only one in that situation.

This is so true that the only time a Conservative member rose in this House to name another airport, he mentioned the Rigaud airport. Of course, this is a bit ridiculous, because there are no international flights landing in Rigaud. In fact, there is not even an airport in Rigaud. This shows the amateurism displayed by the government regarding this issue. It shows how unimportant this issue is to the government. In fact, no one is able to answer questions on this issue. No one in the government felt that it might be a good thing to have something intelligent to say about this issue.

This morning, we were told that our motion would not be supported, because there are no regular commercial flights at La Macaza, at Mont Tremblant. However, I remind hon. members that the motion refers specifically to regular flights. Perhaps, if we repeat it, the government will understand that we must vote on the wording of the motion before us:

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.

This morning, when we received the committee’s motion and my colleague tabled it in this House for adoption, no one on the government side realized that it involved regular commercial flights. They said that there are no regular flights to Mont Tremblant. Consequently, the government could very well implement this recommendation, since it would not have any impact. Why is it refusing to support this motion, which applies only to regular commercial flights? The reason is that it knows we are right. It knows that there in fact regular commercial flights and that Mont Tremblant is the only airport in Canada that is in this situation.

We want a clear statement from the government that this is not an issue; that it is not going to put money into that airport; that the problems are ours to deal with; that all we have to do is pay, and that is the end of it.

We have reason to wonder about the way the government is handling this issue. Municipal councillors, elected representatives at all levels of government and all economic players are being ignored. The government does not even bother to acknowledge their inquiries, answer their questions or meet with them.

The airport was literally forced to sign a contract to pay these customs charges a few days before its first international flights landed. They came into the office like some sort of bullies and demanded that airport officials sign; if they did not, they would no longer be allowed to land planes on their runways. That amounts to extortion and is not a normal way of doing business. They seize bank accounts and operate as if the people at the Mont Tremblant airport were common criminals they are afraid will skip out on them.

I would like to reassure the government that it has nothing to worry about: they are not about to pack up the airport during the night and move it to Barbados. They are not going anywhere; they are staying where they are. If there are problems, it is pretty easy to find the people who run the airport. There is no need to treat them like criminals or take such radical action.

The reality is that the Conservatives are not all sensitive to the concerns of Quebeckers and the situation in Quebec, despite the fact that there are MPs from Quebec in the Conservative caucus. Those people are never there. They did not speak up in this House today and they will probably not speak up. If they do, it will obviously not be in defence of Quebec, but in defence of the government.

I often say that the main difference between a Bloc Québécois MP and a Conservative MP from Quebec is that the Bloc MP is there to defend Quebeckers to the government while the Conservative MP is there to defend the government to Quebeckers. The role of a Conservative MP from Quebec is to say how kind the federal government is and that it does wonderful things and hands out goodies. Conservative MPs from Quebec neglect to say that when the time comes to take real action that will help us develop and grow as a nation, the Conservative government is nowhere to be seen. We saw evidence of this recently in the case of economic development funding for not-for-profit organizations.

There is a model that everyone across the board supports in Quebec. From labour to management to every member of every party at the National Assembly and municipal officials, everyone supports it. There are only ten Quebeckers who disagree, namely the Minister of Labour and his nine Conservative colleagues from Quebec. These ten individuals are the only Quebeckers holding that view. There is ten of them and seven million of us, and they are interfering with how we want to do things. They claim that they can do what they want because it is their money. If they are going to do harm, they should give the money to the Quebec government, which will make proper use of it. It is not because we have the power to do something stupid that we should do it or that it is the intelligent thing to do.

This gives an idea of how insensitive this government is to Quebec's demands. In the medium and short term, as Quebeckers, we have to ask ourselves how come, under whatever government, be it Conservative or Liberal, Quebeckers are never able to fully implement their development model or make any of the choices they would like to make. They always have to beg permission from Ottawa, whose priorities are different from ours and which often acts in a totally paternalistic way, as we have seen on the part of the Minister of Labour.

The reason for this is that we are part of a country in which we are a minority. Obviously, the only efficient and durable solution for Quebeckers is to achieve sovereignty and become an independent country. All these futile discussions and epic battles against the federal government are nothing but a waste of energy that Quebeckers could be using instead to build a stronger society. As a sovereign nation with full control over our taxes and the ability to pass all our own legislation and speak for ourselves on the international scene, we would not have to constantly beg Ottawa for these services...

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member.

The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle has the floor.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for Jeanne-Le Ber for his wonderful presentation, which, among other things, was about my region and the problems faced by my airport, the Mont Tremblant airport. I would also like him to comment on the statement made previously by the Parliamentary Secretary to the invisible Minister of Public Safety. Earlier, he was full of praise for the thousands of dollars that the government invested in the infrastructure of Tremblant's international airport.

Was that a favour? A gift? Was the Tremblant airport the one and only airport to receive funding? Did it receive this money in the form of subsidies? I think it did. I do not think that they did the Mont Tremblant airport a special favour. Logic tells me that after having invested so much money, as the parliamentary secretary pointed out, it would be smart to keep supporting this airport. Will we face yet another scandal?

We invested in a Montreal airport, and one day they simply decided to shut it down, even though the money belonged to taxpayers. If the government is really serious and has been boasting about providing the airport with funding for infrastructure, in my opinion, they should be consistent.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, in fact there is something utterly inconsistent in this government policy. Let us say on the one hand that it is obviously not a gift. The Conservatives often portray the spending of our tax dollars as a gift. We often hear the Minister of Labour say that he has allocated and handed over x amount of money to such and such an organization and so forth.

The Minister of Labour needs to understand that it is not his money. I doubt he is earning enough as a minister to go around distributing millions of dollars out of his own pocket. The money obviously comes from Quebec taxpayers. The least the federal government could do is invest in Quebec infrastructures.

When the time comes to invest in structural initiatives, Quebec never gets its fair share of federal spending. Research centres are one example that springs to mind. If we look at the National Capital Region alone, there are dozens of centres—I cannot recall the exact number—but for purposes of comparison, the number is irrelevant. There are dozens of research centres on the Ottawa side, the Ontario side, but none on the Quebec side, not one research centre.

If we look at investment in different fields of research, fields that have productive benefits, Quebec is severely under-represented relative to its population and the taxes it sends to Ottawa.

In Mont Tremblant, there is investment in infrastructure. Great. That is a good thing, and there is nothing to criticize on that front. But the government must be consistent. If it believes in that airport, it cannot penalize it by treating it unfairly, by treating it in a way that is special but negative, extremely negative. The government should not freeze bank accounts or threaten to close such an important airport.

My colleague drew a very interesting parallel with Mirabel Airport, because Mirabel Airport was also something of a questionable political decision in its day. The subsequent decisions were equally questionable, that is, transferring everything to Dorval, which will soon reach its saturation point.

Our impression is that the federal government, Liberal or Conservative, favours Toronto as the hub of Canada’s airport system, to the exclusion of everyone else. In terms of airport policy, this government’s only thought is to support Toronto.

As for the rest, in Quebec, the decisions on Dorval and Mirabel were a fiasco across the board. We see it now, too, in the case of the Mont Tremblant airport. It is yet another discriminatory decision that is not in Quebec’s interest.

I hope that during the question and comments period the Conservatives will be able to tell me the name of this famous other airport that is being treated the same way, that is, getting regular commercial flights and having to pay charges.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings



Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, and it has two parts.

At the end of his speech, he talked about how Quebec should separate and exercise its own powers. The results of a study have just been released showing that Quebeckers are already paying $300 million for a revenue department, when there already is one in the Canadian government.

That means that $300 million is already being wasted in Quebec because of duplication by a provincial revenue department, and there is already a department called Transport Canada that is responsible for airports. Does my colleague think that in this particular case Quebec should be responsible for its airports? What additional costs would that mean for the citizens of Quebec? What would all the people at Transport Canada who are currently working in Quebec do? While we are on the subject, is Mont Tremblant under Quebec’s jurisdiction or Canada’s?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings



Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased because I will probably have some good quotations next time I want to promote sovereignty. My colleague has shown very clearly that in fact, in terms of duplication, money is being wasted in Quebec and Canada because two governments are providing the same services or carrying out the same activities. There has been a lot of talk about income tax, which accounts for $300 million, but there is much more than that.

At the time of the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, the figure $3 billion was talked about, if memory serves. But let us assume that the figure is only $1 billion. If we consider the fact that since then, the federal government has interfered even more in matters under Quebec’s jurisdiction and so has expanded the number of duplications, we might think that the money to be saved by a sovereign Quebec would be quite substantial. That money could be used to really offer services to the public, rather than duplicating some of the work. I agree, filing two income tax returns is a little ridiculous.

In fact, this House is probably going to be asked to create a single tax return for Quebec. If I understand what my Liberal colleague was saying correctly, we might have the Liberal Party’s support to have a single tax return used in Quebec. Obviously, Quebeckers will not give up the few powers remaining to them and the little control they have over tax policy, to turn it over to the federal government without being able to control it. In fact, our proposal would be to have a single tax return in Quebec, and I hope the Liberals are going to support us. The Quebec revenue department already collects the GST within Quebec for the federal government, and so it would be very simple to have a single income tax return in Quebec, and to have a portion of the taxes sent to the federal government at the same time as the GST money.

In a sovereign Quebec, who will manage our airports? Quebeckers will. That is the goal. At present, the three parties in Quebec are unanimous on that question. If Quebec were a sovereign country, there would be no customs charges at Mont Tremblant airport because that would be considered to be harmful to the economy. The money that the government saves, it wastes because of the lack of economic development.

The comments we just heard is music to the ears of sovereignists.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 17th, 2008 / 12:05 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my comments to those of the other hon. members who have spoken so far, especially my hon. colleague from Laurentides—Labelle. I would like to congratulate her on her speech.

For the benefit of those watching us, I would like to repeat the text of the motion before us:

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.

We could name many more airports within our borders. I would like to reiterate that I am speaking here today out of solidarity with the Quebeckers who live in that area and with my hon. colleague, the member who represents that riding. It is an important topic for all communities that are trying to revitalize themselves, take matters into their own hands and enhance their economic development. These communities and the people of Mont Tremblant, or elsewhere, are taking action to succeed. It is appalling that this cannot be resolved because the Minister of Public Safety refuses to make a decision.

As a brief aside, the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber was talking about the other members from Quebec—mainly Conservative members—who do not seem to care about the well-being of our fellow Quebeckers. I would like to assure him that other members from Quebec are doing a good job and care about the problems facing the people of Quebec. This is not exclusive to the party of the member in question.

What is the problem? What is the Gordian knot? It is a matter of treating a region, an airport infrastructure and an economic sector fairly. Why do I say “fairly”? Because in the committee report, in the presentation given by the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin to the committee on May 26, he began by saying:

The Mont Tremblant Airport is the only Canadian airport where passengers who land on regular commercial flights during working hours, which are generally from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., have to pay a customs fee.

Further in his presentation he added:

—the situation is the same for Canada's other 200 small airports,

He meant that those airports are not victims of undue charges. He continued:

—but none of them charges customs fees to commercial flights—

Obviously he was referring to the same core hours.

Why, all of a sudden, in the Mont Tremblant case, does the government, which made a mistake and knows it, not remedy the situation as soon as possible?

For the Conservative government, in my view and in the view of others making similar observations, it is simple. It is a matter of this government showing a concern for fairness. It is a matter of this Conservative government showing an interest in resolving an impasse. First it must recognize that there is an impasse; it has to have the willingness, the intellectual honesty to say that it made a mistake, that it will right the wrongs and resolve this impasse.

What more do they need? They need the willingness to sit down with people, agree to the requests for meetings made by the colleague who spoke to us this morning and by other stakeholders. The minister and his representatives have to sit down at the table and find a solution. That is called working with stakeholders. It is nothing extraordinary. It is the duty and responsibility of any government to do so. Every government is responsible for managing the common good and it is part of the common good to try to find a solution when they know there is inequity. Finally, they have to be motivated by a vision of the good of the communities, wherever those communities may be.

As an aside, earlier I asked the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer a question. I was truly under the impression that for commercial and economic reasons—it is an impression but I believe it is justified—if there were an airport providing commercial flights from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Fort McMurray area or in other regions of Alberta where a regional airport would be economically very profitable, a solution would be found. I suspect that would be the case—and I am entitled to my opinion. This government is giving us indications that it quite often favours certain regions or certain economic sectors at the expense of others. I will now come back to the matter at hand.

What are we really talking about here? Once again, it is about economic development. It is about a very important catalyst: a regional airport. I and those of my colleagues who are fortunate enough to have one or two in their regions know what it means.

Infrastructure of this kind generates a lot of benefits, for example jobs. It provides a gateway to particular regions, helping not only tourism but other very vibrant sectors as well. In our case, in the Lower St. Lawrence region and in Rimouski, I am thinking mainly of all the research centres, the university and the knowledge-based institutions. There is a tremendous amount of coming and going. We have the Rimouski regional airport, in addition to the one in Mont-Joli. This is very important infrastructure for key sectors of the economy, whether in industry, commerce or tourism.

So what is it all about? It is about economic development and fairness, or lack thereof in this case. It is also about service from the Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for the people and goods that come into our region and for protecting the border. This agency, like all federal departments and agencies, is responsible for providing services. Providing protection is obviously one part of its responsibilities.

We have to be open to the people who come to our regions. We have to recognize what an important contribution they make, in this case to the Upper Laurentians. The people who go to Mont Tremblant are usually far from poor and their presence has spinoff effects that are felt not just in this region but as far away as the large cities. The ripple effect is all the more important therefore.

When we take this example, what is it really all about from a wider perspective? It is unfortunately about abandoning the regions once again. We have gone through a lot of this over the last two years and a half since this government came to power. It is not a new government any more but it still does not have enough experience to make wise decisions and make them quickly. I said it is abandoning the regions because we have already seen a lot of situations where the government was not only unwilling to act but did not even respond. There are many examples.

I am going to go a bit beyond the airport question to talk about our region. A lot of our infrastructure is still in bad shape. There is the wharf in Rimouski East, for which Transport Canada is responsible. We are still waiting for some dredging to be done. We are waiting for Fisheries and Oceans Canada to take care of the marina. We wait and wait because nothing gets done and there are no new decisions we can tell the people back home about.

There is also the whole area of deregulation. Two and a half years ago deregulation began. Personally, on behalf of a whole coalition from the Bas-Saint-Laurent, on behalf of my fellow citizens, I have denounced this and criticized it, and I will continue to do so. Deregulation of basic telephone charges will mean that over the years people in remote regions will pay a staggering amount for the service they receive.

I am talking about abandonment. There was also the matter of the infamous trust. Unfortunately, once again what we have witnessed in our regions is the implementation of an entirely inadequate measure. Members will recall that the trust was allocated equally across Canada instead of meeting the specific needs of populations in crisis, in the forestry sector, to be specific.

To add to what I am saying about the abandonment of the regions, I will say that this trust completely ignored a very important sector of Quebec’s forestry economy, and that is the private woodlot producers. It is as though they did not exist.

Finally, to come full circle, there is Canada Economic Development for the Regions of Quebec. The minister, we know, is determined to put an end to the recurrent funding of not-for-profit organizations before making sure that there will be a plan for them to obtain the funds they need. We heard him say yesterday in this House, in answer to a question I asked, that research centres, for instance, can always turn to Industry Canada. Are not-for-profit organizations now expected to start shopping around among the various agencies for funding?

We know that these organizations fuel the economy, generating jobs and new technologies. They are often cited as examples not only in Quebec, but also in Canada and internationally. But the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec says he is fed up with people leaning on him—and he has shown us often enough what he means—so he has decided to drop this responsibility, though he said there would be a little transition period of a few years.

These are some examples—and I am drawing a parallel with the Mont Tremblant airport—that show that, when the time comes to make appropriate decisions, to sit down at the table with stakeholders and find a solution, we may make mistakes. Making a mistake does not matter. What is important is to admit it and then to take the necessary corrective action. That is what is vital for the individuals, communities and businesses we represent.

So I hope that my colleagues in this House will vote in favour of adopting this report. It is important for Quebec. Obviously this affects me since I live there and I know it well. Be it the airport at Mont Tremblant or another airport, I am just as concerned. We have to find a solution.

I invite my colleagues in this House to vote bearing in mind that tomorrow it could be the place where they live. We have to vote in favour of this motion for concurrence.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with a great deal of attention to my colleague’s remarks, and I was impressed. She represents the riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. I was moved that she talked about Rimouski, because this city and Rouyn-Noranda have a lot of things in common. My colleague’s riding has the great privilege of being on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and it enjoys the wide open space of the river. But the people in both ridings are similar and, most important, we have something in common. If I rise in this House today about this extremely important issue, it is because it has a direct impact on the regions.

We will never talk enough in this House about the small regional airports. We have one in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the one in Rouyn-Noranda. And my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has one in Val-d'Or. These two airports are vital to our region. I can understand the importance placed on these small airports and I can see why my colleague took the floor. This issue is exceedingly important.

But I wonder about the people who may not grasp the importance of this debate on the Mont-Tremblant airport. Abitibi-Témiscamingue is just north of Mont-Tremblant. The successful operation of this airport is of interest to us not only to bring tourists to our area, but also as a means for us to travel elsewhere. Tourists who visit Mont-Tremblant very often go up further north.

Can my colleague explain to us the importance of regional airports for regions in Quebec and especially for the Upper Laurentians, given the subject of this debate?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I am going to repeat some of the things I said, because it may be that he missed a couple of my comments.

We are talking about regional airports, whether it be Mont Tremblant, Rimouski, Mont-Joli, Bromont or others. Right away, people who know Mont Tremblant are going to think about tourism.

That is indeed very important, because large numbers of tourists come to Mont Tremblant and the surrounding area, given the tourist infrastructure that is available year-round. They come to admire the fall colours, or, as my colleague from Hull—Aylmer was just saying, to fish or to hunt, with a lens, or with an actual hunting weapon. They come for the skiing, for all the sliding sports, and they come for the fresh air. They can go hiking, walking, mountain biking, and so on.

For the tourism industry, this is very important and it generates the usual benefits in terms of employment, in particular in food services and accommodation.

As well, we must acknowledge that people who travel by air generally have a few dollars left to spend. They do not arrive with a limited budget and they have a few dollars that they invest in our region, and we are happy about that.

To answer my colleague, that is not all, as I said earlier. There are economic benefits for business and industry. In a regional airport, there are people—I was just talking about knowledge institutions—who are in the business world, who come to sign contracts, to hold meetings, to get training, and so on. These are people who are engaged in trade. Similarly, there are times when, depending on the size of the plane and the space reserved for cargo, there are also commercial products being moved, and not just the individuals sitting in the plane.

All of the economic aspects have to be considered when we talk about a small or medium-sized regional airport. All of these benefits are of crucial importance, and that is why I cannot agree, as I am sure a majority of my colleagues cannot agree, that there is no solution to be found on the question of what the Canada Border Services Agency is charging this airport authority.

There are ways of doing it differently. We know about methods for customs preclearance or customs clearance for travellers on regular flights who can get what we call a “pass”. There are all sorts of ways to go about it so that the Canada Border Services Agency is helping, so that we do not always need customs officer, or four or five people, on site. Today, in this age of globalization, there are different ways of doing things.

We have to find a specific solution for Mont Tremblant. I am told that it is the only airport, out of 201 airports of that size in Canada, that is penalized by the Canada Border Services Agency. So this has to be resolved, it has to be resolved quickly, and no one in this House should stand for anything less.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is a very honourable member and certainly defends her rights as a member of this chamber. She works very hard on behalf of her community. I can understand the passion she has presented to the House with regard to the matter before us.

Recently we debated a private member's bill to do with providing tax credits to graduates who, after graduation, would locate in certain regions of the country with the intent of promoting regional economic development. This appears to have some parallels in terms of being an opportunity to promote public interest through what I would consider to be a regional economic development initiative.

Could the member give us some thoughts as to whether this piecemeal approach, as opposed to a more coordinated approach to assessing the priorities and the needs of the various regions of Quebec or other parts of Canada, would provide better public interest, or whether it is simply a matter of every member of Parliament fighting for his or her own region as opposed to the greater public good? It is an important question from the standpoint of responsible government. Maybe the member would like to make some comments on that.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

It makes me smile. We need to take a look at the past and remember one thing. Everyone here should remember, even if they have not been sitting here since 1980, that there never used to be such a thing as private members' business. How can a government have vision and suggest new ideas to help communities, if not with the assistance of the members who work very hard and introduce private members' bills and motions?

In response to my colleague, the people who have been listening to us and following politics and our debates for two and a half years will not be surprised to hear that we do not rise day after day in this House simply to attack the government. We do this because day after day, the government shows a complete lack of vision.

It has no coordinated vision for economic development. We have a minister responsible for western economic diversification, one responsible for Atlantic Canada, and another one responsible for Quebec. The latter has just made some decisions that completely fail to meet the needs of the regions of Quebec, and that are unfair in terms of economic development.

Once again, it is not well thought out or put together. When a government that is responsible for governing a country lacks vision, it is not only worrisome, but it is also literally a tragedy.

In conclusion, I would like to tell my colleagues that I see a link between adopting this committee report and passing the Bloc member's excellent bill to revitalize our regions. We need to revitalize our regions. The members opposite need the vision to make this happen.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to congratulate the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle. Everyone listening to us today should know that if we are debating the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport, it is because we have a colleague, the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, who is doing her job as an elected official and telling us about the initiative taken by people in her community that was related, of course, to economic development and tourism.

There is nothing nobler than to take up a cause, work with the community, and try to correct injustices. I will have a chance to show that there really is an injustice here.

The Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport is not a minor issue. First of all, in the history of the regional development of Quebec, the Laurentians are part of our collective imagination. Who, in Quebec at least, has not heard Les belles histoires des pays d'en haut, by Claude-Henri Grignon, who won the Athanase-David award in 1933? It takes determination to accomplish one's goals.

The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle is another Father Labelle. I am not referring to her looks, of course, but her determination to ensure the development of the Laurentians, which is one of the most beautiful regions in Quebec. Father Labelle wanted to develop Saint-Jérôme and the surrounding area—at the time they spoke about colonizing of course. A railway was needed to connect it to the other more or less urban centres of the times.

It is rather sad to see a government in 2008-09 that is so insensitive to the regions. We are certainly talking about regional development when we have a community that was accredited in 2002 for international flights thanks to an initiative of the local development board, municipalities and private shareholders.

Why is it that we members of the Bloc Québécois are forever up against a government so utterly insensitive to regional development?

I want to take a few moments as a Montrealer to tell the House about the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, who incarnates the crudest, basest, most disgusting incompetence possible. It can scarcely be imagined that this kind of minister still exists.

He decided, with the stroke of a pen, to pull at least $50 million out of the Montreal economy. For what must have been grossly ideological reasons, given his total lack of calibre and the meanspiritedness and pettiness of the policies he pursues, this minister decided if non-profit organizations are getting involved in economic development it is inappropriate because that is not their mission.

There is a connection between the decision this minister made in regard to exporters, the aerospace industry and Montreal International, to take just a few examples, and the decision that the Canada Border Services Agency made in regard to the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport, which was discriminatory.

Why are we dealing with discrimination here? Discrimination consists of different treatment in comparison with the whole.

I have just heard some figures given by a colleague—ones I have not checked but will use as well—saying that 201 comparable airports, that is of similar size, are exempt from charges, but that in the Laurentian region the Mont Tremblant airport had to pay customs charges when an international flight lands there and has to be processed through customs.

How can we explain this to our fellow citizens? How can the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle explain to her fellow citizens, to local developers, that everywhere across Quebec—and in Canada, I would add—there are no customs charges during the time period when there are not supposed to be any, except in her particular region? This is even more serious because everyone in Quebec realizes that the Laurentian region has a very specific tourist character.

All hon. members, of course, believe that their area is the loveliest. I might mention that Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is celebrating 125 years of existence this year. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve was an autonomous Montreal municipality, an area of economic prosperity. People called it the Canadian Pittsburg, because of its burgeoning footwear industry. The town joined Montreal in 1918. My colleague Louise Harel, who is known for her sense of humour, has remarked that there has always been an anti-amalgamation tradition in the east of Montreal.

All that to say that the Laurentians are an extremely special tourist attraction. I do not know whether the minister responsible for the agency has even set foot in the Laurentians. I would remind hon. members that this region boasts 10,000 lakes and rivers, which contribute to its tourism potential. There are numerous outfitters, national parks, nature preserves, and activities such as walking nature trails, fishing, hunting, the fall colours festival and cross country skiing. There is open space for walking, for hikes, for romantic strolls—this is a region that brings out the romantic in people—something you will acknowledge in yourself I am sure, Mr. Speaker —for getting out in nature behind a dog sled or on a bicycle. Tourism is one very vital aspect of life in the Laurentians.

I would also like to pay tribute to my colleague, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, he of quick wit, and he who has served well in the National Assembly. I believe he has been recently honoured by the Barreau du Québec. This honourable member is well known for his silver tongue. He is an orator, a talented litigator, a man with a strong grasp of effective language. The hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who stands strongly behind this region, proposed a motion in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, to which the agency reports and where its estimates are voted on, if my information is correct. I will reread that motion, which has been accepted and has nothing ambiguous about it. It reflects the wishes of the committee and those wishes need to be expressed in the House. The minister must allow himself to be influenced by the committee motion , which reads as follows:

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.

I have to ask: where is the Quebec Conservative caucus when it comes to defending the interests of Quebec? Did anyone besides the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle and her colleagues from the Bloc Québécois stand up? We have a situation here where the future regional development of one of Quebec's finest tourist region is mortgaged. The Conservatives from Quebec should be equally supportive of economic development in Quebec. There are times when partisanship has no place and we have to join forces. When one region of Quebec is under attack in its economic development, it is all of Quebec that comes under attack. Again, as I said, the Laurentians region is a unique tourist attraction.

There is no indication that the ten Conservative members from Quebec have offered any support to the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle. We need everyone in this House to clearly understand how urgent the situation is.

Each time a plane lands at the Mont Tremblant international airport in Rivière-Rouge, it costs the airport administration $1,093.68. Naturally, that is in addition to the airport's regular operating costs, which makes it uncompetitive. That should be troubling enough in and of itself.

All members of this House have to understand that this is a situation unique to that airport, which is not found in Montreal, in Quebec City or in any other similar size airport anywhere in Canada.

I am gripped by anger and indignation. I have no intention of having an unparliamentary behaviour or showing any disrespect to anyone in this House, but I do believe that all parliamentarians have to understand the urgency of the situation.

I will stop here because I am so angry I can barely contain myself.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague from Hochelaga. I am always really impressed by his performances. It is a shame that the Quebec bar cannot award him a certificate to take cases to trial, because I think that my colleague would make a very good litigant.

That being said, I have a question for the hon. member. In his opinion, how important are regional airports to regional development in Quebec? Does he think they are important? What does he think they mean to the regions? I know that he is an inquisitive and important man, and that he is quite familiar with the city, but I also believe that he is interested in knowing more about all regions of Quebec. I was wondering, so I thought I would ask him. Can he comment on how regional airports impact regional development in Quebec?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank our loquacious colleague of the class of 1975 A.D. We all know that our colleague is a veteran litigant and an accomplished lawyer, and that his mission has been to push back the boundaries of the legal profession. I thank him for pointing out that I completed my law degree but not the bar admissions courses, and that it is not my intention to seek admission to the bar any time soon.

That being said, he was correct in saying that several factors contribute to regional development. These may be natural resources, labour, people's mobility, connections between population centres, and of course, communications. In this case, communications go hand in hand with an impressive tourism infrastructure, one of the most beautiful in Quebec.

He was quite right to suggest that I reiterate here the tremendous importance of ending the discrimination that the Mont Tremblant airport administrators are dealing with.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I were cynical, I would say that I hope to lose this debate. But since I am not cynical, I am going to do everything I can to try to convince my friends across the way—to use that lovely expression I learned in the National Assembly—and especially my friends across the way who speak French and come from Quebec.

Deep down, like my leader, I believe that the politics of the worst-case scenario are the worst kind of politics. Losing this debate would give us a huge electoral advantage and would demonstrate that the representatives Quebeckers elect in the federalist parties are unable to convince their colleagues that a given situation is really unfair to Quebec.

I will also try to convince my other friends across the way to intervene, friends I have made over the years while serving on committees, including the public safety committee this resolution comes from.

I get the feeling that this debate is not a partisan debate. If we continue to use the sort of language we are currently using to hurl insults at each other, we will not accomplish anything. I believe that there certainly is a conflict, but it is between part of the administrative branch and the political branch of the government. I offer as proof the fact that when the minister talks about this issue, he makes such gross factual errors that it is obvious he is misinformed.

When I hear the history of the local authorities, a history I have followed, I can understand how the animosity between the local authorities and certain officials began. During this debate, members have reported that the local authorities felt as though they were forced to sign an undertaking that made the Mont Tremblant airport the only airport that had to pay the government customs charges on regular commercial flights. It is true that the local authorities signed, and I understand their explanation.

Since I have been involved in this file from the very beginning when I was transport minister in Quebec, I would like to say a few words on the history of this project. It is a nice success on which we want to build an even bigger success.This success has to be credited to all three levels of government. Indeed, as mentioned earlier by the parliamentary secretary, investments in this project came from the local, Quebec and federal governments. The success that we want to achieve in making this request is to make these investments profitable. I am sure that all Canadians, from Victoria to Corner Brook or to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, would be happy if more American tourists came to the Mont Tremblant area. Of course, we would have to eliminate the obstacles that are causing problems.

As I said, I was there at the very beginning. The investments that were made in Mont Tremblant were very successful both for the developers and for the entire region. It was pretty incredible for these investors to get their money back after spending so much. And not only did they get their money back, but they are making huge profits and are generating significant economic spinoffs in the region.

This development came just at the right time. While a large number of jobs were lost due to the forestry crisis, this development created many other jobs.

Call it a geographical coincidence, but there just happened to be a practically unused airfield near Mont Tremblant. It used to be a military airport. This airport met international standards in that the runways were long enough to accommodate very large aircraft.

The thinking was that with a few changes, they could increase tourism in the Mont Tremblant region even more. Until now, tourists flew into Mirabel Airport or Montreal Airport and drove the rest of the way. They came up with an idea, an idea which they put forward when I was part of the Quebec government. They found out how many private airplanes there were in North America. They said that people who own private planes were looking for places to go. It is a rather luxurious way of life, to be sure, but when you own a plane and have the means, you want to use it for your own enjoyment. They said they wanted to advertise to that audience. Since most of the big owners of private planes are in Greater New York and Boston, they would run advertisements with photos to let them know that in an hour or an hour and a quarter, they could be skiing or snowmobiling or fishing in the summer.

The advertising campaign targeting that specific market was successful, so successful that they were approached by a major airline, Continental. Continental proposed reaching out to a less affluent audience, middle-class people, and felt it could attract enough people to offer regular flights.

Previously, officials of the Mont Tremblant airport had no objection to passing on customs charges to those rich owners of private planes. Once regular flights started, there was a class of less affluent people. The price would affect the number of people coming to the region. There was competition with other destinations, such as Vail, Colorado. However, they had an advantage for people in New York: they were closer. The same idea would bring even more people here.

That idea was put forward, and the aim was to grow the market. This is where the story gets a bit confusing. Yes, they changed categories and are now an airport that receives regular commercial flights. They would like to be treated like other airports in Canada that receive regular flights. Within the administration, there is someone who still sees it as a small local airport, whereas it has changed categories. Just before changing categories, everything was negotiated. They were ready. They came to sign and were told that they would have to pay the charges. It was to be the only airport with regular commercial flights that would have to pay customs charges.

The customs charges, in relation to the economic benefits that kind of clientele brings to the region, are completely offset by the money those people will spend here, by the GST and taxes they will pay and the economic spinoffs. Generally, the idea is not to make it more expensive for tourists to come to Canada, at least not if the goal is to attract lots of people. That is why the ministers’ representatives told us they signed.

What I hope is that someone from the other side will get to the root of the problem. When the minister talks, it is clear that he is not familiar with the file. When the parliamentary secretary talks, it is clear that he knows the file a little better, but he does not appear to have a full understanding. However, one thing is certain, and I am going to speak about it in political terms.

For the past little while, I have been hearing, in this chamber, my friends across the aisle who speak French tell us that we, on this side, cannot do anything, that they are the ones in office. Will they wake up? Will one of them bother calling local authorities to get explanations and to confront those explanations with those provided by the government?

I know these issues because I have seen many during my political career. When we listen to one side, we think that it is right. Then, when we listen to the other side, we realize that the first one had omitted something. At that moment, we get the impression that the latter side is right. However, when we go back to the other side, we get another explanation. So, it is normal to change one's mind like that, until we have dealt with all the issues.

In a case like this one, the minister does not have the time to do that. However, there are surely francophones across the aisle who care about Quebec's economic development, who are proud, as we all are, of the success of Mont Tremblant's tourism industry. Unfortunately, these people do not bother taking a closer look at the issue.

Incidentally, I approached one of them, namely the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, who told me that this file was on his desk and that he would deal with it on that same day. That was several weeks ago. I hope he did that. It seems to me that if he indeed dealt with the issue, he should be able to influence the members of his caucus, so that, this time, the political level can take precedence over the administrative level. Because it is the political that would be right.

I do not think that it is out of meanness that the government refuses to do that. However, I think the Conservatives are ill-informed. They should confront what the administrative level is telling them about this issue with what local authorities are saying.

Members opposite are constantly telling us that we, on this side, cannot do anything, but that they can get things done. Then, let them prove it. Let them get the facts about this issue. They will see that we are right and then they should put pressure on their minister.

What is the point of having three ministers from Quebec in this government? There used to be four. There could be four again, if there a cabinet shuffle. What is the point, if they cannot intervene regarding this issue? They justify themselves.

That is why I said, at the outset, that if I were a cynic, I would want to lose. Because that would again prove what was said so eloquently by the member for Jeanne-Le Ber: when you are a member of a federalist party in power in Ottawa, you are not there to defend Quebec; you are there to defend federalism to Quebeckers.

That is why I am attempting to convince those opposite to look into the matter. The fact remains that this is an injustice for Quebec. We are being put into a category where we are the only ones to pay customs charges for regular commercial flights during normal hours of operation.

The Mont Tremblant airport is only asking that no customs charges be levied for these flights, as is the case at all other Canadian airports. Customs charges apply only to flights that are not regular.

Mont Tremblant Airport did not object to the individuals paying the customs charges for flights on small aircraft that are still available and are profitable for us. However, when they wanted to change category because an American carrier was preparing to provide regular flights, they wanted the same treatment as that given to other regular flights in Canada.

How long does it take to make an administrative change in Parliament such as the one we are discussing?

In parliaments in general, it takes a while; here, however, it takes longer than elsewhere. Perhaps it is somewhat more complicated. But if we wait for a reform, we may end up putting the airport out of business. Who will be the loser then? Not only will Quebec lose, but so will the rest of Canada because it will not collect the GST. Those people who travel to Mont Tremblant could go to Vail. They may not necessarily visit Canada again.

I would like our friends opposite, if they are not convinced, to think about it because there will be a vote on this motion. I am certain that the people of Mont Tremblant will take their photographs and show them around town. It may happen just in the Laurentians. However, people elsewhere might pick up on the idea.

This is a clearcut case of unfair treatment of Quebec and it shows the ineffectiveness of our representatives within a federal political party in power.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, with all due respect, I remind my colleague that one can be a member from Quebec, be federalist, and love Quebec all at the same time. He and I both love Quebec equally. It is possible to be a federalist member from Quebec and to fight for Quebec here in this House.

We have seen the actions of the Conservative government over the last two years, we have seen the crisis in the manufacturing industry, we have seen what is going on with our forests, and we get the impression that the Conservative government has completely abandoned our workers, particularly those in the forestry industry. The industry in this region has suffered a lot. There have been job losses and the region is in a tight spot. It decided to move forward and focus on tourism. To develop tourism, it very much needs its airport, and this issue needs to be handled fairly.

Does my colleague not believe that this is another way the government is being unfair towards the Laurentians?

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Perhaps, but that is not a debate I want to have.

I see that my colleague is not aware of my previous speeches. I think it is possible to love Quebec and be federalist, that it is possible to love Quebec and be sovereigntist, and that it is possible to love democracy.

Eventually, there will have to be a vote. My colleagues opposite should note that all the members from Quebec, whether they are from the Liberal Party, the Bloc or the NDP, support this motion.

I am not saying that my colleagues do not love Quebec, I am saying that all the members from Quebec are on the same side in this case, except those who are in the party in power.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment.

I would like to use my time to thank my Bloc Québécois colleagues who participated in this morning's debate. I really appreciate their support. I would also like to thank the members of the opposition and other parties who also made their opinions known and who let the Conservative government know how disappointed they are by the government's attitude towards this file. I think that we can say, after this period of debate, that the opposition is unanimous and that it is calling on the government to take a stand because this issue is urgent.

If I have to repeat myself, I will address the Conservatives in the jargon pilots use when in distress: “Mayday. Mayday. There is a problem. It is an emergency. You must take concrete political action to save my region,”