Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to speak to Bill C-24, which, we believe, is not a good bill because it goes directly after two specific things: it gets rid of regional ministers, who, in our view, are very important; and it creates a type of subclass of ministers, who are no longer paid less than ministers, but who are less effective and have fewer work tools. I will come back to that.
First, I will address the issue of regional ministers. On this side of the House, we believe that it is always important to consider Canada as one large entity. Naturally, we are all Canadians. However, as magnificent as it is, our country is made up of vast regions, and each one is unique. All these regions have their own distinctive characteristics. That is why, on this side of the House, we believe that each one of these regions needs to have and retain strong ministers who are responsible for the economic development of Canada's six major regions.
This is nothing new. We are just continuing with what the Right Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King established in 1921 when he decided that the minister responsible for Quebec would be the Hon. Ernest Lapointe.
The current Liberal government is undoing something meaningful that one of its predecessors put in place. We have to give credit where credit is due. This is just another example of the Prime Minister's bad attitude toward certain situations.
Let us not forget that this summer we called him on this and told him it was a bad idea to do away with regional ministers who are responsible for economic development. He said this was a way of curbing the type of politics that have always plagued the regional development agencies.
What does he mean by this type of politics? Could the Prime Minister have been more specific about the type of politics? Does that mean that his predecessors, like the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, or the Right Hon. Paul Martin, were doing things wrong with this “type of politics”, to use the current Prime Minister's words? Does that mean that those Liberal governments were engaging in petty favouritism? With all due respect to his position, who is he to say that?
This high-handed, pretentious, arrogant attitude is what makes people in the regions lose confidence and feel insulted. With all due respect to the Minister of Economic Development, he is a guy from Toronto. That is not a flaw. If he were from Quebec City, I would say the same ting. If he were from Victoria, I would say the same thing. If he were from Flin Flon, I would say the same thing. It is only natural that someone's outlook would be more focused on the region they come from. That is less about politics and more about having to represent the people who elected us. However, someone with a national mandate has to think on a national scale.
I will give an example. Whoever comes up with the economic development plan is naturally going to favour his or her own people. It is not a flaw or a virtue. It is just a fact. Here is my example. A year and a half ago, Bombardier begged for a public handout. It asked for $1.3 billion of Canadian taxpayers' money from the federal government and $1.3 billion of Quebec taxpayers' money from the provincial government. The provincial government made a decision, as was its duty to do. The federal government, on the other hand, waited. Rather than giving in and giving Bombardier $1.3 billion, what did the minister from Toronto who is responsible for economic development do? He gave Bombardier a $135-million loan for the C series and, lo and behold, he also gave the company a $250-million loan for another one of its aircraft, the Global 7000. The surprising thing is that Bombardier's initial request made no mention of the Global 7000.
What is the difference? The difference is that the C Series is manufactured in Montreal while the Global 7000 happens to be manufactured in the Toronto area. The minister allocated twice as much money to Toronto as he did to Montreal, even though the company did not ask for anything for Toronto and wanted the money for Montreal. That is the reality. When there are no regional ministers who will stand up for the interests of Quebec just as they will for the interests of Ontario, western Canada, and the Maritimes—which is only natural—everything inevitably will revolve around the office of the minister responsible.
The scales will always tip one way. It is only natural that the minister focus on his own affairs before thinking of others. That is why we need strong ministers. Unfortunately, by eliminating the position of minister responsible for regional development, the government is weakening Canada.
One of the ministers I highly respect and personally like is the member for Québec, the Minister of Families. Yesterday, he and the Minister of Transport said that they should not meddle with Quebec's Bill 62, which is a brave and responsible position to take. As an aside, I would like to commend the member for Québec, the Minister of Families, and the Minister of Transport, both experienced government ministers, who said that this concerned Quebec and not Ottawa. That is what we Conservatives have been saying all along. However, I have to say that this is an important distinction in light of what thePrime Minister said yesterday about how this law makes no sense and so forth. However, oddly enough, a week earlier, before the by-election in Lac-Saint-Jean, he was saying that the provinces' jurisdictions had to be respected. I will now get back to the matter at hand.
The member for Québec and Minister of Families said in an interview that the Prime Minister had told him to just focus on families and not worry about Quebec, because he is not the minister for the Quebec region. This is outrageous. He may not be minister for the Quebec region, but he is their MP. Who will stand up for the Quebec region and the province of Quebec at the cabinet table, if the member for Québec is on the record as saying that the Prime Minister told him that is not his job and to just focus on families?
What is wrong with this government? This is an outrage. It is an insult to the memory of William Lyon Mackenzie King and Ernest Lapointe, who was the first-ever minister responsible for Quebec. In an interview, Régis Labeaume, the outgoing mayor of Quebec City, called this comment disgraceful. He said that back in the day, whenever there was a problem, he would call Denis, and they would fix it. I am referring to the Hon. Denis Lebel, who until recently was the member for Lac-Saint-Jean. What used to happen in such situations? It is normal for someone to have a contact in the federal cabinet. We did not always agree, but at least when people called us, we gave them an answer right away.
While I greatly respect the Minister of Economic Development, who is from Toronto, it is hard to be familiar with all the particularities of each region. You would need to know Quebec like the back of your hand to grasp all the differences between Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke. If I were asked to describe the difference between Milton and Barrie, I would have no idea, since I am not from that area. It takes someone from the region to explain things and make the right choices. That is why it is important to have regional development ministers. Unfortunately, the government's arrogant approach, which sees everyone the same, is misguided.
On top of that, the Liberals want to give junior ministers the same salary as senior ministers, without giving them the responsibilities that go along with the position. Coincidentally, this directly affects women. It is unfortunate because this approach, which is being presented as an improvement, is really all about image. The fact is, this changes absolutely nothing.
As Conservatives, we are very proud of our record regarding women's participation in public administration. Members may recall that, back in the 1950s, it was our party that got the first woman, a Hamiltonian by the name of Ellen Fairclough, elected to the House of Commons. She was also the first female minister in Canadian government under the Right Hon. John George Diefenbaker, and she took on important portfolios, such as citizenship and immigration. She died at the age of 99, and we are very proud of her.
Another Conservative government, this time under the Right Hon. Joe Clark, was the first to appoint a female minister of external affairs, the Hon. Flora MacDonald. She had to deal with one of the most serious international relations crises in Canadian history: the Iran hostage crisis. When the U.S. was prevented from getting its people out, it was under the Hon. Flora MacDonald, Conservative minister of external affairs, that Canada harboured American diplomats in the Canadian embassy and helped evacuate them from a country in the grip of war, a country grappling with a severe social crisis.
We were the first party to have a female Prime Minister, the first party to have a female leader of the opposition, the Hon. Rona Ambrose, and I believe we are the first party to have a woman serve as House Leader of the Official Opposition, a very effective one at that.
My time is up. I will gladly take my colleague's questions.
I also believe we are the first party to have a woman serve as House Leader of the Official Opposition, a very effective one at that.