Unfortunately, she left before the member for Sault Ste. Marie finished speaking, but if she had listened to his whole speech, I believe she would have seriously reconsidered her own position.
I would also have liked it if the Conservative members had listened more carefully to the speech by the member for Sault Ste. Marie and had distanced themselves from their Conservative ideology. I believe that if they had been more attentive, we would have more support for this bill, at least I hope so.
I would like to thank my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle for agreeing to introduce the bill, which gives a tax credit to new graduates working in regions with demographic and economic problems.
I have to say that my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle and I have visited a number of regions of Quebec in the past two months. Everywhere we went—Chicoutimi, Forestville, Matane, Trois-Pistoles, Baie-Comeau, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Val d'Or, Mont-Laurier, Maniwaki and La Tuque—we heard the same message: this sort of measure is needed to help young people and the regions.
I will come back to the speech given by my Conservative colleague from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. She raised a number of points. First, I have to say that if the member had consulted her people in Saskatoon, she would have realized that the Government of Saskatchewan has just introduced an identical program to help graduates who settle in economically depressed regions with declining populations.
The member also said that the Regional Development Incentives Act needed to be updated because it was out of date. I agree that this act should be updated, but it is not the role of this bill to do that. It is up to the government.
She also said that this program would cost $100 million a year and that it was far too expensive. Hon. members will recall Bill C-207. The Conservatives who spoke to that bill said it was far too expensive. They were talking about $600 million at the time. I see they have finally got their estimates down to more reasonable figures.
To give my colleagues of the House some context, I will give a brief outline of the bill. The tax credit is intended for students who, in the 24 months following the successful completion of their studies, accept employment in their area of specialization in a region that is facing economic and demographic difficulties. The bill would give an income tax credit of up to $8,000 to recent graduates for a minimum of three years.
In the 2006 election, I promised to introduce legislation to help young people who want to settle in the regions. I am talking about Bill C-207, which I introduced in April 2006. It was supported by a majority of members of the House at all readings and even made it to the Senate. Unfortunately, when an election was called in the fall of 2008, the bill was stopped in its tracks.
I am therefore very pleased to see that the bill is being debated again here today in this House. I am also happy because it gives me the opportunity to clarify a few things. By voting against the former Bill C-207, the Conservatives denied young people access to a tax credit they could have used as of this year's tax return. I was especially disappointed by the Conservative members from Quebec, particularly the two ministers from my region who, incidentally, are very familiar with this measure, since the Quebec government has had a similar measure in place since 2003.
Once again, these members have proven that those who are members of governing parties in Canada tend to close their eyes and forget about standing up for the people they represent. This time, I hope that Conservative members from Quebec, especially the members for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma, will pass along a message within their caucus explaining the benefits of such a measure.
It is a surprise to no one in this House when I say that the regions of Quebec, as well as several regions in other Canadian provinces, are in the midst of an economic crisis that began long before the current crisis struck. I am speaking of northern Ontario and northern British Columbia and of several large regions in decline in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. These regions have had economic woes for many years. It goes without saying that implementing a tax credit to encourage young people to live in the area, or to remain there, would be very beneficial.
Our regions are experiencing a real crisis that the Conservative government is completely ignoring. I hope that, this time, my colleagues opposite will show a little more humility as they listen to the cries for help from the regions and the young people living there.
Quebec is not the only province to adopt such a program. Following the speech by the member from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, I stated that the provincial government of Saskatchewan instituted a similar program a few years back.
Many regions are in a period of economic distress, which of course only increases the trend of youth out-migration. Indeed, the further we go from the main centres, the more the population is declining. Quebec, like Saskatchewan, has taken measures to stem the tide. The exodus of youth and the depopulation of the regions are not new phenomena. However, for decades, they were offset by high birth rates. With the drastic decline in the birth rate, the challenge today is to keep these young people in the region and to attract others to come and settle there. Time is of the essence because the trend has continued since the 1990s and the situation is worsening in several areas.
At present, the population is declining in 6 of the 17 administrative regions in Quebec, namely Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands and part of Mauricie and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. In fact, in my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, young graduates about to marry or start a family leave every day. A region that loses its young people is condemned to certain death, in the medium or the long term. To make matters worse, the departure of one young person often sets off a chain reaction and many more people leave their regions.
Young people who leave their regions to go study in Quebec City or Montreal end up making connections and friends and developing a network there. As such, it is more than likely that, once they have completed their studies, they will want to settle in their new community rather than return to their home region. That is what happened in my own family. There are five children in my family. My three sisters, my brother and I have 11 children all told, all of them born in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. Now, only three of them remain in my region, while eight have gone to live elsewhere.
In closing, I would like the members to bear in mind that this bill has two goals: stem the outgoing tide of young people and bring skilled workers back home. This tax credit would go a long way toward developing the regions.