Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today in this House to offer my full and complete support to my riding neighbour, the member for Sherbrooke. I want to point out just how important it is for Motion No. 288 to be passed by this House in order to ensure the economic development of the regions of Quebec.
With the way the Quebec economic model has developed, not-for-profit organizations have played and will continue to play a central and crucial role. To my way of thinking, it is clearly the duty of this House to do everything to ensure the survival of the not-for-profit economic development organizations. It is our role as parliamentarians to ensure that these bodies have all the resources and means they need to carry out their role properly. For these reasons, I enthusiastically support Motion No. 288. I am totally convinced that funding for not-for-profit organizations must be fully restored.
As we know, the Bloc Québécois firmly opposed the cuts affecting the not-for-profit bodies funded by the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. These cuts threaten the economic model developed by Quebec over decades. The Bloc therefore calls for an immediate, integral and indefinite return of funding for these not-for-profit organizations through the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.
It is important to understand that these not-for-profit organizations are bodies helping small and medium business to innovate and to explore outside markets. Over time, they have become an essential link in the local economic fabric in many regions in Quebec.
Surprised by the defensive response to its initial decision to cut funding to the not-for-profit organizations, the government issued a guideline that took effect on November 22, 2007. The minister at the time reiterated his intention to abolish funding of the operating costs of the ongoing activities of the organizations, but offered them a transition period ending March 31, 2010. However, in order to obtain this temporary funding, a not-for-profit organization had to put forward a serious transition plan showing how it intended to replace the agency’s financial assistance for its operating costs after that date. The wording was condescending and arrogant, members will agree.
All other projects with any hope for funding had to be ad hoc in nature, of limited, well-defined duration, and directly in line with CED priorities. As these priorities are not explicitly defined, we can be sure that the government wanted to provide funding piecemeal to specific projects probably selected arbitrarily and on the spur of the moment according to the whim of the minister on a given day. We call this a narrow and simplistic view of regional economic development.
That being said, while the new guideline provided no economic advantage to the people of Quebec, it did provide political advantages to the government and the minister. But in reality, people did not buy it. The future of many organizations was in doubt. Organizations such as Montréal International, PÔLE Québec Chaudière-Appalaches, the Technopole maritime du Québec, based in Rimouski, the Technopole de la Vallée du Saint-Maurice, the Wind Energy TechnoCentre in the Gaspé and the Centre de recherche Les Buissons in Pointe-aux-Outardes will all be in danger if these grants stop coming.
Whatever the size or focus of the individual organizations, most were created out of the desire of the regions and the Government of Quebec to support promising small businesses and help small and medium-sized businesses invest in innovation and explore foreign markets.
For several years, Quebec's regional investment strategy has been based on the development of distinctive industrial sectors. Thus, Quebec has focused on the development of marine sciences in the Lower St. Lawrence region, the wind power industry in the Gaspé, and aluminum processing in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.
Also, Quebec has based its development policies on the growth of networks of centres of excellence. These research centres, subsidized in part by Economic Development Canada, are working in these niche areas in partnership with small and medium-sized business. For some of these organizations, funding from the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec made up as much as 50% of their budgets. For example, the corporation providing technological support to small and medium-sized businesses in eastern Quebec and on the North Shore stands to lose the $400,000 in support it used to receive every year.
Many ongoing or upcoming projects may have to be postponed or cancelled for lack of funding. The fact is that this measure is a direct threat to the operation and very existence of some of these organizations involved in regional development.
Many large and small economic stakeholders in Quebec have vigorously condemned this measure, which would eliminate all direct subsidies by March 31, 2010. For instance, the Specialty Vehicles and Transportation Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, the Quebec Aerospace Association, the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, the Fédération des Chambres de commerce du Québec, Sous-traitance industrielle Québec and the Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec sent joint letters of protest to the minister on February 28 and April 1, 2008.
This decision is equally objectionable to the Government of Quebec, which helps fund those organizations. Thus, in an interview with Radio-Canada, the Quebec minister of economic development, Raymond Bachand, took a clear stand against the minister's decision, describing it as ideological and disdainful.
On June 10, 2008, Quebec City's mayor, Régis Labeaume, spoke out publicly against the minister's initiative during a joint press conference with Raymond Bachand, Christian Goulet, vice-president of the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce, Paul-Arthur Huot, president and CEO of PÔLE Québec Chaudière-Appalaches, and Jean-Yves Roy, president and CEO of the National Optics Institute. The City of Montreal has also expressed its opposition to the minister's decision.
Faced with such an outcry, the Conservative government did a bit of a turnabout by unveiling, in March 2009, CED's “new policy” concerning not-for-profit economic organizations in Quebec. This policy, which was presented as a new initiative created by the government, merely restores, partially and temporarily, the program that was cut in April 2007.
I took note of the minister's about-face, which will mean that not-for-profit organizations will once again be able to rely on federal support for their current operations, but I have serious doubts about the associated terms and conditions.
First of all, the “new” funding is for a probationary period ending March 31, 2011. Having already announced in 2007 the possibility for not-for-profit organizations to extend their funding until March 31, 2010, this is in reality just another extension of one year only. Upon expiry, these organizations will find themselves back at square one, with no funding, and hence possibly in danger.
What is more, only 52 of the 200 Quebec not-for-profit organizations that were eligible prior to November 2007 will be able to apply for temporary federal support. In other words, three-quarters of the development agencies are being abandoned right away.
The obvious conclusion is that this latest government announcement is little more than a smoke screen, a way to stifle the criticism erupting from all parts of Quebec against the elimination of funding for these not-for-profit organizations. The real solution, the one proposed by my colleague, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, is to restore funding for non-profit economic organizations and immediately pass Motion No. 288.