House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was auto.


Opposition Motion—Securities RegulationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There is no consent.

(The House divided on the motion which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #91

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:08 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on May 14, 2009, by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the need for a royal recommendation to accompany Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, a bill standing in the name of the hon. member for Nipissing—Timiskaming.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter, as well as for his detailed submission.

In presenting his case, the parliamentary secretary noted two aspects of the bill which he argued violated the financial prerogative of the Crown.

First, since the bill seeks to establish a new government agency, the economic development agency of Canada for the region of northern Ontario, he argued that the establishment of a new department or agency entails those operational expenditures necessary for it to function on a day-to-day basis.

Second, he made reference to the fact that the bill provides for the appointment of a variety of officials and other personnel. He indicated that since remuneration or the possibility of remuneration is provided for in the bill, a royal recommendation is therefore required.

I have carefully reviewed Bill C-309 and given particular attention to both the establishment of the new agency and the appointment of various officials and employees proposed in the bill.

With regard to the establishment of a new agency, the parliamentary secretary cited a ruling of July 11, 1988. As the parliamentary secretary noted, in that ruling the Chair stated that an amendment to establish a separate government department “undoubtedly would cause a significant charge upon the federal treasury in order for the new department to function on a daily basis.” (Debates pages 17366-7) This observation is just as valid when applied to Bill C-309. Accordingly, the Chair believes that the establishment of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, as proposed by Bill C-309, would give rise to new and distinct government expenditures, thus requiring that the bill be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Bill C-309 also provides for the appointment of members of an advisory committee as well as an agency president, and their remuneration is stipulated in clauses 4 and 9 of the bill. It is well established that such salary provisions constitute a charge on the public treasury.

Furthermore, clause 13 provides for the appointment of officers and employees in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act. Undoubtedly, such appointments would necessarily include remuneration and thus would also involve a new government expenditure.

Clearly, Bill C-309, by providing for both the establishment of a new agency and the appointment of officials, involves the expenditure of funds. Such spending, for a new and distinct purpose would need to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its current form. Today, however, the debate is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has five minutes remaining in his time slot.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I have been waiting patiently, but certainly looking forward to concluding my remarks on Bill C-309, which proposes, at a significant cost to the taxpayer, to create a new federal agency, with its own deputy minister and bureaucracy, to administer economic development programs exclusively to northern Ontario.

If we are to make these kind of expenditures, I think it should be on the stimulus package and the efforts that have gone forward in this budget to help Canadians versus to build a larger bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, to summarize, in addition to some of the initiatives that I had mentioned previously, the FedNor organization today administers two very important programs that directly benefit northern Ontario: the northern Ontario development program, which is the program that represents the organization's original mandate to serve these areas; as well as the community futures program. These programs serve as a foundation of FedNor's holistic and highly successful approach to community economic development. Unfortunately, the organization's evolution, which I have tried to capture in my comments, has led to confusion about FedNor's role and responsibilities.

Please allow me to clarify.

Because of its original mandate to serve northern Ontario exclusively, some have been led to believe that FedNor funding aimed at northern Ontario is somehow flowing south. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is important to understand is that what used to be referred to as the FedNor program has now become the northern Ontario development program. Through this program, FedNor, the organization itself, funds economic developments exclusively in northern Ontario. Even though FedNor has grown and some programs have involved delivering provide-wide funding, each of these programs, including the northern Ontario development program, has its own distinct budget.

In fact, the northern Ontario development program and its budget has steadily increased over the years. Today, it is much larger than it was when FedNor started assuming responsibility for the other two programs. This means that funds destined for northern Ontario are not flowing south, contrary to what is being claimed by some members in opposition.

Let me be clear. Even though the organization has received increased responsibilities over the years, these have not detracted from FedNor's focus on northern Ontario. Bill C-309, in essence, aims to create an agency to do what FedNor is doing today through its northern Ontario development program. However, as it stands, the bill would effectively turn back the clock on the progress made by FedNor. The bill, as written, would remove the flexibility that has helped make FedNor so valuable to the people it serves.

Recently the Government of Canada announced Canada's economic action plan, which will provide much needed support for businesses, industry and all Canadians during economic slowdown. As part of that plan, FedNor will be administering northern Ontario's share of the $1 billion, over two years, allocated to the new nationwide community adjustment fund. FedNor's flexibility to deliver this type of programming is what makes the organization so effective.

I should also note that delivering additional programs like the community futures program and the community adjustment fund actually creates jobs in northern Ontario. By delivering these initiatives through an established organization like FedNor, instead of creating new layers of bureaucracy, the Government of Canada and all citizens benefit from important cost savings.

The clients of the community futures program and other FedNor-delivered initiatives also benefit by drawing on FedNor's substantial program delivery expertise and recognized sound management practices. The potential severing of the community futures program, which supports 24 community futures organizations across northern Ontario, would have a particularly negative impact on northern residents. FedNor has established long-term relationships with hundreds of community futures staff and volunteers who serve on these boards. These relationships have been built over many years and have created strong bonds between the federal government and community stakeholders.

Let me illustrate this by making a point. At last year's Ontario Association Community Futures Development Corporations annual conference, prior to the minister's keynote address, the board chair told the 250 delegates in the room that, “Not only does FedNor enable access to the funding which fuels the efforts of our respective organizations, but it's the ongoing management of the program and the advice they give us combine to give us a serious strategic advantage”.

In short, Bill C-309 aims to create a new entity to what FedNor already does, through the northern Ontario development program, yet it would limit the capacity of FedNor to contribute to other economic development initiatives in northern and rural Ontario.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to add my voice to the debate tonight.

I would like to acknowledge the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming for introducing Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario.

I would thank the member, but I must remind the House that his party had ample time to implement what it is calling for today and chose not to do so. That is the curious case of the Liberal Party. It says in opposition what it dares not do in power. It is entirely predictable really, but it is also a bit sad. We do not know which version to believe, which version to take at face value.

On this issue, we seem to view things in a similar light, and I would like to think the Liberals believe what they say. What I would also like to think is the Liberals will act on their beliefs. I would like to think it, but sadly, history does not back this up.

Recent parliamentary history is full to brimming with tales of Liberal about-face manoeuvres. Issue after issue they have turned coat and run from them. We have come to expect it. We know they like to sound like New Democrats for public consumption and then act like a backroom, Bay Street, old boys' club, charter members when the doors are closed and the real decisions are made.

We know we cannot count on the Conservatives to support a stand-alone agency from FedNor. That may partially explain the terrible showing they had in northern Ontario in the last federal election. The Conservatives see FedNor as nothing more than an adjunct office for the ministry of industry. They have consistently rebuked calls to have FedNor made into a stand-alone agency.

That pretty much leaves New Democrats to fight for this change. We have the courage of our convictions and remain steadfast in our beliefs. New Democrats see that northern Ontario is a unique region that presents unique economic challenges and requires a stand-alone agency to be able to deliver concrete strategies that will allow this region to bloom.

Northern Ontario is rich in resources. Among many other things, we are miners and foresters, mill workers and farmers. There is a strong tradition of entrepreneurialism that makes for a vibrant society. This needs to be encouraged further. We should be doing all we can to help. We should be scouring the region for every opportunity to grow the economy even more. An independent FedNor would go a long way to helping with this.

If people felt that FedNor was a responsive agency that was in place to help northern Ontario develop opportunities, there would be a stampede to take them up on that. Instead we have an ineffective agency that is defined more by what it is not and those who feel left behind, out in the cold and on their own.

Earlier in this debate, we heard from my colleague, the member for Nickel Belt. He had a laundry list of FedNor failures, of opportunities lost or in danger of being lost. Why? Is it because there is not the political will on the other side of the House to help this region? Is it because it is not sexy enough? Is it because there are relatively few seats for the amount of work needed to really hear the residents of northern Ontario? Is it because those members see the north only as a place from where raw resources come? I would really like to know because my constituents will tell us that often it is the way we feel like we are being viewed.

My colleague from Nickel Belt rightfully pointed out that FedNor must be able to adapt to the changing economy and ensure the economic prosperity of the workers of northern Ontario and their families. Its mandate must be drawn up at the local level by the people who live in the region, not by some faceless bureaucrat in the Ottawa offices of Industry Canada.

I would like to address a second point and give an example of the inability of the agency to understand the true nature of northern Ontario.

In northern Ontario a lot of our buildings are multi-purpose structures. Many of these buildings have health care components to them. It could be a clinic or a public health office. I want to make it clear that we are not talking about hospitals here. The problem is because of these health care components in these multi-purpose buildings, everything else in that structure is automatically disqualified from FedNor funding, a classic example of the agency having no real understanding of the true nature of the region it is meant to serve.

If only that were all we had to say about the delivery of services from FedNor. I have seen first-hand how even approved projects take forever to negotiate. In Nairn Centre, a feasibility study for a project that will run water to Baldwin Township has finally been approved after a lengthy application process.

Long delays ignore the fact that smaller centres do not have the budgets to be able to employ an engineer. They bring in consultants. The consultants offer tenders for a project within a given timeframe. When a project incurs long delays, these tenders can expire. Ultimately, when the project is ready to proceed, there may be no engineering consultant in place and tenders need to be resubmitted. The cost can be thrown out of whack if fees increase over these long periods.

I have seen how FedNor has given the town of Hearst the complete runaround in its attempt to help with a proposal to create a green technology centre. It told the town that it should repurpose the initial application and make it a business centre as opposed to the tourist centre that was originally envisioned. Hearst took that advice and re-applied. When it heard back from FedNor next, it was to say the application was not appropriate for FedNor and that it should submit it somewhere else. What a shame.

It makes people shake their heads. It makes them wonder if FedNor is in place to make these small towns burn through all their resources on proposals.

I know that FedNor is not working as well as it could or should. It is a small cog in a larger department and is treated like a poor cousin, just as northern Ontario is often treated. The bill would go a long way to rectifying some of the problems we see with FedNor today. By making it a stand-alone agency, it could be more responsive and flexible.

This is repurposed legislation that was originally drafted by the member for Sault Ste. Marie. I would like to salute him for his tireless work over the years on behalf of the residents of northern Ontario. His vision for FedNor is one to which New Democrats will honour and remain committed. When we make it to that side of the House, we will not forget our commitment.

As we can see, a stand-alone FedNor agency for northern Ontario would be the best way to go. Many of my communities have indicated the need to ensure we have a proper FedNor program in place. They are struggling right now, given the fact that northern Ontario has been hit so hard with job losses.

I encourage the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming to ensure that Liberals will be supportive of this bill. I know they have introduced it, but we need to ensure they will save face and ensure it gets put in place.

Over and over again, my communities have indicated the need for a stronger FedNor program and to ensure it is stand-alone.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Stronger than ever, record investments.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

The member for Kenora can provide all the rhetoric he wants, but we know he does not support these issues. We need to ensure our people are well taken of in the north.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

It is working just fine in my riding.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Although he may be from the north, he does not support the issues that entices the north to come to fruition.

I appreciate that I was able to speak to the bill. I hope there will be a successful vote on it in the near future.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill C-309, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming. It is a bill of great importance to me, as the Opposition critic for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. I find it most curious, however, that the two Conservative members from northern Ontario did not deem it worthwhile to speak on this bill.

Regional development is a key factor in the growth, development and stability of our country. We know that, geographically speaking, Canada is the second largest country in the world. Its sheer size brings with it challenges that we must face in order to provide each region, each corner of the country, and each individual, with suitable opportunities and tools for success and prosperity. That is why regional development is so extremely important. Quebec's needs are different from those of Atlantic Canada, and from those of western Canada. Similarly, northern Ontario has its own challenges.

Regional development is a tool that the government can utilize to enter these regions of our country and provide funding opportunities geared for these specific geographical areas.

Regional development is much more focused on better understanding what is happening on the ground, and because it is geared to smaller regions, it is able to address very specific needs. It has also proven to be very resourceful in providing program options that are specifically geared to changing circumstances throughout the country.

I must say, given the numerous advantages to regional development, on which I could elaborate here, it is shocking that many hon. members, even certain whole parties, are not in favour of regional development agencies. They do not understand the value of such agencies and unfortunately do not think any further than the political interests of their own party, rather than what is best for our country.

I can stand here and say great things about regional development and how it is so important to our country, but I think it is important to focus on the substance of Bill C-309 and talk about what it actually proposes and what is asked by this legislation.

The bill wants to change FedNor from a program under Industry Canada and turn it into a federal development agency. What separates FedNor from its counterparts is that each of the agencies has an act of Parliament establishing it as a separate entity and outlining its mandated powers, while FedNor does not. This legislation means that the federal government requires the consent of Parliament to change or alter the agency's powers and mandate.

There are already three regional development agencies in place: the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, Western Economic Diversification Canada, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Two more were announced in the 2009 budget: the Southern Ontario Development Agency, and a new regional economic development agency for the north. Each region of the country, with the exception of northern Ontario, will have its regional development agency.

In its last budget, the government acknowledged that it had some degree of interest in regional development agencies by establishing two others. It missed the opportunity, however, to add FedNor to the list of its new agencies. If we look at a map of Canada, we see that northern Ontario—that is regions like Sudbury, Sault Sainte-Marie, Timmins and so on—seems to have been totally forgotten as far as any commitment by this government to provide sufficient long-term assistance for regional development goes.

Members opposite have provided many different reasons as to why FedNor should not be an agency. Even the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka comes out and says it is going to cost too much, will have too much administration, and we will lose jobs in northern Ontario if FedNor is an agency.

I have to ask my hon. colleague across the way where he gets his numbers. Where does he get this information? I thought the job of the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka was to help promote northern Ontario, not to alienate it from the rest of Canada. On the one hand he says it is going to cost too much, and then on the other hand he decides to invest in two brand new agencies. That means starting from scratch, with new infrastructure such as building space, equipment and staff, and the list goes on. Just to get these two new agencies up and running is going to take time, and with this government it will probably take a lot of time.

Unfortunately, time is not on our side just now. People need funds now. Regional development is more important than ever. Organizations, municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, all are trying to get government assistance in order to survive this economic crisis. I am very pleased that the government has seen the need to establish two additional agencies, but we need results right away.

FedNor is already in place, and it is working. It already has permanent offices in all of northern Ontario. FedNor has competent staff with the proper training already out there on the front line, and already aware of what northern Ontario communities need and what challenges they face. Infrastructure is already in place, the program has been operational for some time, and results have been achieved. What we are asking for now is that it be given some power. The government ought to make FedNor into an agency and show the people of northern Ontario and those in other regions of Canada that the regional development agencies in the different regions of the country can help us get through the current economic crisis.

The bill is about more than just turning FedNor into an agency. It is an opportunity for the government to show leadership, to show commitment, to show the importance of regional fairness. The bill goes far beyond the words written on paper. The government, since being elected, has slowly been slashing away at the budgets of all the regional development agencies. However, circumstances that no one saw coming, especially the Conservative government, have to come to light and have changed the playing field.

A global economic crisis was needed for the government to realize the importance of these agencies as a vehicle to get the money out to the people who need it. The government has realized the importance of regional development agencies, and that is why the debate on Bill C-309 is so timely.

Now is not the time to play at one-upmanship. The time for criticism and personal attacks focused on certain things that have been said is long gone. We need to focus on what has to be done to help Canadians in all regions. Regional development spending has to be targeted to promote regional equity, to encourage job creation, and to stimulate local economies, instead of going to favourite projects in order to achieve political gain in Conservative ridings.

This is an opportunity for the House to show its commitment to regional development and regional equity, along with its determination to help Canadians. Bill C-309 must be passed, and regional development agencies must be established from one side of the country to the other, in order to ensure that all regions benefit from responsible and properly targeted spending.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-309. This bill proposes, at a significant cost, to create a new federal agency to administer economic development programs exclusively to northern Ontario, which includes the great Kenora riding.

Bill C-309 proposes to duplicate what FedNor, part of Industry Canada, is already doing and doing quite well. Having seen first-hand over the years the benefits to the people of northern Ontario and to its communities and businesses, I recognize and appreciate that this organization has continued to grow and thrive under the Minister of Industry's leadership.

That is something that needs to be emphasized. The Government of Canada is working successfully with individuals, organizations and communities to promote and enhance economic development throughout northern Ontario. The northern Ontario development program and the community futures program are two major programs administered by FedNor under its mandate of regional economic development in northern Ontario.

New programs and measures as part of Canada's economic action plan will have a direct and positive impact on the economy of northern Ontario. FedNor will continue to work closely with communities and industry leaders to ensure that our efforts to meet the specific needs of northern Ontario are taken care of.

Today I would like to focus my remarks on the value of the community futures program administered by FedNor and its impact on northern Ontario. Across the country, the community futures program is delivered by the individual regional development agencies. In the Atlantic region, it is the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. In Quebec, of course, it is the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. In Ontario, and this is important, it is Industry Canada's FedNor, exclusively for northern Ontario. In the western region, it is a much bigger organization, Western Economic Diversification Canada.

In Ontario, community futures programs support 61 community futures development corporations, or CFDCs as they are otherwise known, serving all rural areas of the province. Twenty-four of these serve the needs of northern Ontario.

Community futures development corporations are incorporated, not-for-profit, community-based development organizations. What makes these organizations so effective is that the boards are composed of local volunteers who bring to the community futures development corporations their expertise in a variety of sectors and their intimate knowledge of the communities where they live and work.

Community futures development corporations are true grassroots organizations. Local needs, of course, are always best identified and dealt with locally by those living, working and raising families in the community. The community futures development corporations, or CFDCs, help their communities to grow, work towards economic sustainability, and achieve a brighter economic future, by offering a number of services.

These services include repayable loans to small and medium-sized businesses, business information and planning services, strategic community planning and socio-economic development, and support for community-based projects. This assistance has resulted in improved business practices, increased entrepreneurship, and new, viable business start-ups.

Mr. Speaker, listen to the enthusiasm for the program.

The CFDCs' services also help strengthen and expand existing businesses, leading to further job creation. The CFDCs also help to build community capacity for socio-economic development, an important focus in rural and isolated communities. In 2007-08, community futures development corporations invested more than $50.6 million in over 1,100 northern and rural Ontario businesses effectively and efficiently.

These investments, in turn, helped to leverage a further $86 million in investments from other sources. As a result, 8,800 jobs were created or maintained, and thousands of businesses were started or expanded.

It is quieter now, Mr. Speaker. These are impressive results. They are just as impressive as the vision of community futures development corporations from across northern Ontario, which have formed investment pools to promote larger economic development initiatives.

Operated independently in the northeast and the northwest, these collaborative investment pools allow members of CFDCs to offer loans of up to $500,000 to support worthwhile local projects.

The CFDCs' investments are contributing to a regional economy where businesses can grow and people can prosper.

Here is an example that illustrates the important role of economic development performed by the community futures program and FedNor's northern Ontario development program.

In 2002 both FedNor and the South Temiscaming CFDC saw the economic development potential being offered by a small regional food festival, la Foire gourmande. Recognizing that this festival provides an excellent showcase for the offerings of agri-food producers from across the Temiscaming region, FedNor and the local CFDC provided la Foire gourmande with support to expand.

The result is that in 2007 a record 35,000 food enthusiasts from across Ontario, Quebec and as far away as the east coast descended on la Foire gourmande, making it northern Ontario's gastronomic event of the year. Each summer regional farmers, food producers and area restaurant and hotel operators have seen a tremendous boost to their bottom line.

The success of this project and many others can be attributed to the role that FedNor, the regional economic development organization for northern Ontario, plays in supporting the growth and prosperity of communities and businesses in northern Ontario.

FedNor administers various programs, including the northern Ontario development program, the community futures program, the eastern Ontario development program, and other Government of Canada initiatives.

Our government has positioned FedNor well to implement our economic action plan. It is an economic action plan that will strengthen northern Ontario communities, and in fact already has and will continue to, while making investments to promote long-term growth.

FedNor's enhanced budget, including the portion of the community adjustment fund for northern Ontario communities, has already had an immediate impact on the lives of northern Ontario residents.

FedNor's effectiveness as the regional and community development organization for northern Ontario has remained constant, even as it has grown to deliver more programming and special funding initiatives over the years.

It will continue to be an effective regional economic development organization as it works with northern Ontario communities and businesses to help protect the jobs of today and create the jobs of tomorrow.

We need only speak to mayors, community leaders and other stakeholders in northern Ontario for confirmation. They will tell us that FedNor support has been there for northern Ontarians throughout the years and that it is working very well in its current form. It will continue to do so.

One of the issues related to Bill C-309 is the suggestion that regional development can only be properly delivered through an agency.

For nearly 20 years now, FedNor has proven that the form is not important; the strategies and the design of the programs meeting the needs of the communities and businesses are what is important.

There is also the perception that a full-fledged agency would have superior status instead of being located within Industry Canada, that there is a danger that FedNor could be shut down tomorrow, and that the program is not safe because it is not an agency. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This government was the first to provide FedNor's northern Ontario development program, thanks in large part to Leo Bernier, with guaranteed base funding for a five year period. No other government had previously put the northern Ontario development program on such a solid footing.

FedNor can deliver a number of Government of Canada initiatives designed to target a specific need, and at present, it is well positioned to do so.

FedNor is a flexible organization that has administered focused initiatives, including the softwood industry community economic adjustment initiative and funding for the economic development of official language minority communities in Ontario. It will continue to deliver portions of the community adjustment fund in northern Ontario.

As I said earlier, these added responsibilities do not reduce FedNor's northern Ontario specific budget or detract at all from its focus on the north. To the contrary, what they will do is allow FedNor to grow as needed, depending on the Government of Canada's program needs, in its rightful place in Industry Canada.

This ensures that when the government needs to deliver new programming, it will do so in an efficient and cost effective manner using the tried and true vehicle we know and love as FedNor. My colleagues and I are confident that when we need to call on FedNor in these instances, it will deliver.

In short, FedNor's location within Industry Canada is beneficial to all, but especially to the communities and businesses that need it and depend on its services, like those in the great riding of Kenora.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important initiative for northern Ontario.

I want to say right off the top that given that I was the member who introduced this bill initially about two years ago, it was never intended in any way, shape or form to be a criticism of FedNor as it now exists, the good people who work for FedNor and its programs, nor was it intended in any way to be a criticism of the Community Futures Development Corporations. We know the good work they do across northern Ontario and in other parts of Canada.

However, this bill was initiated out of a concern that a number of us had based on what we heard and read, both from the Conservatives and from the Liberals at that point in time. Before I get into that, I want to say how much I appreciate that the member from North Bay has picked up the bill and tabled it in this Parliament, and has been able to get it before the House so that we can stand here today and debate it.

I give credit, as well, to my colleague from Nickel Belt who has gotten behind this issue. He has worked very hard with me and the rest of the northern Ontario caucus of seven New Democrat members to make sure that whatever we do is in the best possible interest of northern Ontario, and that we put all our energy and resources behind it so that at the end of the day it is in keeping with what we know is needed in northern Ontario.

I also want to say to the member for Kenora, as he chirps away over there and continues to make noise in this debate, that he is right in that FedNor was brought forward initially by Mr. Bernier and Mr. Mulroney. At that time it was a Conservative initiative to try to help northern Ontario. They recognized the very cyclical nature of the resource base of the economy of that wonderful part of our country.

What stimulated me, in partnership with my colleagues in the NDP caucus, to move this bill forward in the first place was discussion, dialogue and debate that we heard in a number of elections that a Conservative government, if it were given a chance to have a majority government, would do away with regional development agencies altogether. That would be devastating for northern Ontario and for FedNor.

In 2004 we heard discussion from the minority Liberal government that the Liberals wanted to expand FedNor to become FedOntario, and to dilute the little bit of money that we get as it is and to spread it over that large part of this province that is highly populated and in fact has all kinds of resources at its disposal that we do not have access to in northern Ontario. We felt that was wrong and that we needed to do something.

We continued to see a bleed-off of some of the resources that FedNor initially had on northern Ontario by way of the new offices that began to pop up in places like Barrie, London and Ottawa under the banner of FedNor. One can argue what one likes about the budget and how it is still focused and targeted on northern Ontario, but when offices are set up under the rubric of FedNor in other places in Ontario that obviously are not in northern Ontario, we know that resources are being bled off and the focus is going someplace else. We need all of the focus, attention and resources that we can get and garner in northern Ontario.

Over the last couple of years in the House, I have watched the development of the Quebec regional development agency. It became a stand-alone agency with all the bells and whistles that goes with that kind of organization to serve the province of Quebec.

I had the pleasure of attending a meeting in Halifax with the Atlantic development agency. I saw the budget, the number of people who worked for that agency, and the way that agency is engaged in a comprehensive and all-involved way with provincial and municipal agencies, and giving leadership down in that part of our country. That agency is well respected and effective.

I thought that we deserved something similar in northern Ontario, for the very resource-based, cyclical economy that is there to make sure that it stabilizes and indeed grows and that we take advantage of some of the tremendous opportunities in northern Ontario. It is an area of the country that has unique and exciting advantages and opportunities, but it is also challenged in many ways, when it comes to its geography and the distances involved. Certainly the weather and transportation are huge issues up our way.

I decided once I tabled the bill two years ago that I should consult with the people of northern Ontario. I went into seven communities across northern Ontario. I went to Kenora, the community where the member who just spoke is from. I even went to Bracebridge which some might debate whether or not it belongs in northern Ontario. One of the questions I asked was, do we need a full-fledged regional development agency for northern Ontario? I met with community leaders, business people and people from other organizations in those communities. Because there was some sense of a bleed-off from northern Ontario into other parts of the province, if we were going to set up a full-fledged regional development agency with all of the resources that it would require, I asked them if we needed to be very clear about what exactly formed northern Ontario.

I put out the suggestion initially that we should go back to the original boundary for northern Ontario which was known by many, particularly trappers, miners and others who worked in northern Ontario as the French and Mattawa rivers. That was the dividing line. When I began to talk about that and challenged the folks in northern Ontario to work with me to see if that was the dividing line, it was then that the Liberal member from North Bay tabled his bill. He was getting a bit of heat from that part of the province. It was suggested he was supporting that dividing line when in fact he was not. I was the one who was putting that question out there.

I talked to people in Bracebridge, in the Parry Sound--Muskoka area to see what they thought about it as well. What I heard across the north and into the Parry Sound--Muskoka area was that we need a renewed and better resourced regional development agency. People overwhelmingly sent that message. That is what I heard in consultations with people in Kenora, Thunder Bay, Fort Frances, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Espanola and Bracebridge.

When I asked the question about the boundary though, there was not quite the same concern about that because they felt that if we had a full-fledged regional development agency with all the resources that come with it, we could probably serve an area as big as one that would include the area of Parry Sound--Muskoka.

I then approached the minister responsible for FedNor who was the member of Parliament for that area and suggested to him that if he would work with me and with the member from North Bay to implement this new regional development agency for northern Ontario, I would have no difficulty including Parry Sound--Muskoka in that territory. When I went to Parry Sound--Muskoka, those folks made it very clear that they felt a great attachment to northern Ontario. They felt that their area resembled in many ways the north of the province as opposed to southern Ontario.

We moved forward and decided that it was a good idea and that we had the support of the north. It is why today I stand in the House with my colleagues from the NDP and particularly the seven members of Parliament from northern Ontario to say that we will support this bill and the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming as he moves the bill through the House.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Malpeque will have seven minutes.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed pleased to speak to Bill C-309 and support my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming.

He is right when he states that the residents of northern Ontario deserve the same privileges, services and powers that full-fledged agencies, such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions and Western Economic Diversification Canada, in fact, do have.

However, although I am a strong supporter of regional development and ACOA in Atlantic Canada, I have to admit that the services of that agency have really deteriorated substantially since the current Conservative government came to power. A lot of that deterioration is due, at least in part, with ACOA now, in Prince Edward Island, being allowed to be used basically as patronage heaven, right from its vice-president within the province, to some of the contracts it feeds out, to how it operates in terms of almost supporting a research department for the official opposition in Prince Edward Island.

That is not why ACOA was set up in the beginning. It was set up to be an agency, to create programs, to do business development, not to be a slush fund for a government that had claimed that it was against patronage when it came to power. Most sadly of all is that the president of ACOA, whose office is in Moncton, New Brunswick, has failed to stand up against the Prime Minister in terms of doing her job and prevent that kind of political patronage from happening. That should not happen within a regional development agency.

So I say that at the beginning, as a word of caution, that these agencies have a job to do. They are important, but they have to be staffed in such a way so as to do their job and not be allowed to be used for patronage purposes.

I could elaborate at length on that, but I really want to get back to the key point that my colleague is making on the need for a northern development agency rather than a program.

It is important that the Government of Canada be committed to ensuring that the people of northern Ontario are given every opportunity to develop and maintain a strong regional economy, as well as diversify and strengthen their employment base. The whole purpose of this bill to ensure that this indeed does happen.

Since the Conservative government took office in 2006, the FedNor budget has been slashed by nearly $7 million a year for a region that needs development. This bill is designed to ensure that FedNor would not be subject to further cuts.

The government has failed to give due recognition to the fact that the regions where it failed to get members elected, places like northern Ontario, merit fair consideration with respect to regional and rural development.

We did see, and we do not disagree with it, in the last budget two new agencies created. One is the southern Ontario development agency, with $1 billion over five years, that is if the Conservatives ever spend it. We know they are good at making announcements, as we heard in the House during question period today from the President of the Treasury Board. He rolls out the numbers, but there is no substance to the facts that he talks about.

The fact is the government makes announcements but fails to deliver. Hopefully, it will deliver to the southern Ontario development agency the moneys it promised. As well, there is a new regional economic development agency for the north, with $50 million over five years.

It is important that fair consideration be given with respect to regional and rural development in places like northern Ontario. The same of course applies to the Atlantic region and the unique concerns of our rural communities.

Some no doubt will be wondering why the legislation was not introduced sooner than today or why it is being introduced by a Liberal member as opposed to the minister responsible for FedNor.

The answer to both these questions is quite simple. Regional development programs, such as FedNor, were never in jeopardy under the previous Liberal government. Since taking office, the Conservatives have made it abundantly clear that they do not believe in the effectiveness of regional development as we in fact do.

We target specific programs through agencies into areas with specific objectives, whether it is developing the infrastructure within the region, whether it is developing the base for businesses to operate, or whether it is assisting in terms of studies so businesses can develop business plans which they can then commercialize and create regional economic development and jobs in their area.

The bottom line is that the bill would promote economic development, economic diversification and job creation in communities throughout northern Ontario. A FedNor agency will demand greater accountability and would be required to report to Parliament on a regular basis.

For all those reasons, I support my colleague in proposing Bill C-309. I know the Speaker made a ruling earlier, but I would hope that FedNor would come to pass as a true operational agency as we believe it should be.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a real sense of pride in Bill C-309 that has been presented to the House. I look around and see that there is support from three parties but not from one. It is the same party that recommended to the Speaker that this bill not receive a royal recommendation.

As everyone can imagine, I rise today with a sense of pride but also a heavy heart. I listened to what was said by the members of the Conservative Party and, in particular, the member for Kenora. He said this bill is looking to duplicate FedNor. Nothing could be further from the truth. FedNor is a program. Liberals want it to be an agency. Why? So that we could be on equal footing with everyone else and the people of northern Ontario would not be second class citizens. That is all we are asking for.

We are looking at FedNor and saying we have a program, but we want an agency like everyone else. I do not think that is an unfair request. To say that it is a duplicate shows that the member does not understand what this bill is about. I am hoping that he will revisit it and understand what Bill C-309 would do.

The other issue that has come up is the cost of bureaucracy and the extra cost that a FedNor agency would require. Let me explain the difference in bureaucratic or corporate services that are required between a program and an agency.

A separate agency generally requires its own corporate services and communications divisions to provide human resources and public relations support. FedNor already has its own corporate services and communications divisions. If it were turned into a separate agency, creating these divisions would not be an issue. FedNor currently employs 140 civil servants throughout northern Ontario.

Conservatives say a program is just as good. A program is not just as good as an agency. The difference between an agency and a program is that a program is part of Industry Canada, it is buried in it. Whereas, an agency reports to a minister and Parliament. Any change in its mandate has to come through Parliament. If any major change needs to be made or if it has to be eliminated, it has to be voted on by all members of Parliament, not just the minister who decides on a whim to get rid of a program which would really hurt northern Ontario.

When I compare a program and an agency, I wonder why the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is an agency. Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions is an agency. Western Economic Diversification Canada is an agency. Two new agencies were just created. If the government thinks a program is just as good as an agency, why were there not simply two new programs put in place?

There was talk about money going south. We know the CFDCs are administered through FedNor in northern Ontario. There is no change in that. There is no danger of that going anywhere else under an agency. In fact, it will be stronger and better administered.

When I hear these misleading statements coming from the Conservatives, I am hoping they will be able to look at the bill objectively, change their minds, and maybe withdraw their request that the royal recommendation not be given. Really, it is a sleight against all the people in northern Ontario.

In closing, this is not about extra cost. It is not about extra bureaucracy. It is about providing security throughout northern Ontario with regional economic development, something that the people of northern Ontario deserve and should have in the form of an agency.

It is not about fighting about what one area or another should have. It is about being equal right across the country. Right now, the people of northern Ontario are not as equal as everyone else. We feel like second class citizens in our own country and I really do not think that is the Canadian way to live.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 7:08 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members



Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to an order made earlier today, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 17, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.