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.