Mr. Speaker, although my speech may not be as humorous as that of my friend from Edmonton West, I will try to live up to his standard.
I too am pleased to stand to speak on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act. As some may know, a few months ago I was given the privilege by the leader of the official opposition to be named critic for FedNor, an agency that now has less accountability to Ontario's north, which I will expand on momentarily.
For those watching at home, Bill C-24 would create eight new Liberal ministerial positions and formally eliminate the positions of six ministers for regional development agencies, whose responsibility to local community organizations and businesses would now be in the hands of a single minister. Local development projects and decisions in communities like Prince Rupert, Timmins, Whitehorse, Churchill, Goose Bay, and Miramichi, for example, just to name a few, would be made by that single minister from Mississauga.
This summer, the Prime Minister said his appointment of a Toronto-area minister for all regional development agencies was “a way of reducing the kind of politics that we’ve always seen from regional development agencies”. I am not sure what the Prime Minister was actually referring to. Regional ministers being accountable to and responsible for matters of regional importance is not political. That is just common sense, something the government has been lacking lately.
Let me say what is political. It is making decisions without consulting the very people who will be affected by those decisions. No wonder the level of trust in government in some rural areas is decreasing. When decision-making is centralized, especially decisions that have a large effect on a population, and they are made in some faraway place with, at times, little or no on-the-ground knowledge of the unique needs of each province, region, county, or municipality, problems happen.
To make matters worse, the government operations committee only heard from the government House leader and one professor studying this bill. The Liberal-dominated committee did not hear from a single witness on the issue of regional development agencies. That is right. Maybe the Prime Minister felt local folks cannot make these decisions for themselves after all. The Prime Minister added insult to injury with his cynical slur against Atlantic Canadians, claiming a Toronto-area minister needs to run ACOA because of the kind of politics he insinuates exists in Atlantic Canada.
What about Quebec? I am sure Quebeckers will be going to bed easier tonight knowing that a minister from Mississauga will now be making decisions for that province. After all, I am sure it has been a long-accepted tradition in Quebec that Toronto knows best. I wonder how Mr. Forget, the current president of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, is now feeling. He was pleased, back in November of 2015, to see three Montreal ministers in cabinet, but almost with a sense of foreboding, he wondered at the time what would happen to the Quebec economic development agency, stating how important it was for Quebeckers to have the attentive ear of a Quebec minister on matters related to local economic development.
The Prime Minister's decision to formally eliminate, through Bill C-24, regional development ministers reminds Canadians that, under the Liberal government, they no longer have regional ministers representing and fighting for their regions' interests because the Prime Minister thinks this is a kind of politics being played. Instead, the Prime Minister, leaving all regional development in the hands of a single minister from Mississauga, again seems to think this is a better kind of politics. We see a pattern forming.
Last week, I was in northern Ontario and heard the concerns of small businesses, community representatives, and chambers of commerce regarding the northern Ontario economic development agency, or FedNor, and how they wanted more transparency, accountability, and local influence in the decision-making on projects that will have a significant impact on their communities. What I do not think they had in mind was the $150,000 in FedNor funds that were given last fall to a company based in the innovation minister's riding, a Mississauga riding. Apparently, this is the preferred kind of politics the Prime Minister had in mind.
This spring, a Liberal Atlantic caucus subcommittee reported that it has had reports of a threefold increase in processing times at ACOA since the appointment of this Toronto-area minister. The subcommittee noted that centralized decision-making is viewed unfavourably as impeding the agility of programs. The subcommittee was asked to advocate for regional decision-making in order to better address regional needs.
The future of regional development agencies is cast further in doubt as there are no specific references to any of the regional development agencies in the innovation minister's mandate letter. Not only will local and regional development projects be decided by a Toronto-area minister, but that same minister has no mandate, no accountability to his Prime Minister, for the stewardship of these agencies. Is this good politics or bad politics? Forgive me if I am starting to get confused, but we do see a pattern. Any claim by my colleagues opposite that this is about ministerial equality is about as believable as Mississauga being in northern Ontario.
Bill C-24 would amend the Salaries Act to allow for the equal payment of all ministers, ensuring that ministers with more junior portfolios are paid the same as ministers with larger and more senior portfolios, without adding any new responsibilities. What does this mean? It means the ministers with junior portfolios will not have their own deputy ministers, will not have the same departmental budgets, and will not have the same authority as ministers in most senior portfolios.
While the Liberal speaker claimed that Bill C-24 is an example of housekeeping, and it is the housekeeping item they claim to legislate equal salaries for all ministers, the bill fails to ensure that all ministers are created equal. I see I am getting the wrap-up sign, so I will continue after question period.