Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.
Perhaps one day we will have just one word for each and every riding.
I am very pleased to rise today on Bill C-24. On behalf of all my colleagues, we will be opposing the bill because it is all wrong. I will say why, based on three elements.
First is the fact the Liberals want to cancel very important portfolios, especially ministries that are important for each and every region of Canada. Second, because they create new ministries for which there is no necessity. Third is the so-called debate about salary equality for women and men. That was the cosmetic debate, as was so well said by my colleague from Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. She said a few minutes ago, this is a cosmetic bill, basically because this is the “selfie” bill.
I have three points to make on this issue.
First, the bill eliminates the positions of ministers responsible for regional economic development. The government is making a huge mistake in getting rid of these positions.
Let us think back to better times, all the way back to 1921, under the Right Hon. William Lyon MacKenzie King, when Quebec had a political lieutenant in cabinet, namely the Hon. Ernest Lapointe. Thereafter followed dozens of strong, influential men and women who were essential to our democratic process and who did a fine job of ensuring Quebec's prominent role within Canada and cabinet.
Obviously I am talking about Quebec because it is my home province, but the same could be said about the other regions of Canada as well. I would even quote people with whom I do not necessarily or naturally share the same philosophical outlook. For example, there is the Hon. Marc Lalonde who played a vital role within the cabinet of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau government and who ensured that Quebec was represented. From my perspective, it was not necessarily the right way, but Quebec was very actively represented under the Hon. Marc Lalonde.
The Liberal government has decided to get rid of economic development ministers for the regions. That is a mistake. First, I must mention that this bill was introduced after the fact. Members will recall the swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall and the pretty picture of these new ministers going to Rideau Hall, getting off the bus with the spouse, the kids, and everyone else. However, the reality is that, once again, it was about appearances and not substance, because they could have very well said right then what changes they were going to make. The changes were announced a little later.
Why is it important to keep regional ministers? With all due respect to the member from Mississauga, who is currently responsible for Canada's economic development, he is from Mississauga. That is not a shortcoming in and of itself. We realize that he knows every corner of the riding of Mississauga. I have no doubt about that. However, can he distinguish between Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke? Does he know the difference between Ajax and Flin Flon? Can he tell us exactly what is the difference between Victoria and Vancouver, and what subtle differences there are between Baie-Comeau and Sept-Îles?
A person has to be from the area to understand those differences. That does not take anything away from who the member is as an individual, on the contrary. I am certain he does great work and that he knows his region like the back of his hand. However, that is the sticking point. He knows his region. Geographically speaking, our country is the second largest country in the world. Obviously, in our hearts it is the best in the world. However, the fact is that Alberta's reality is not the same as that of Atlantic Canada, and people in British Columbia have their own needs that are not the same as those of the people in Quebec. That does not make one region's needs any less important than another's.
That is why we need strong personalities in cabinet to advocate on behalf of the regions, people who know what is best for the region in question. In the past, Quebec was well served by people such as the Hon. Denis Lebel, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean, who provided strong leadership. The mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, can attest to that. About a year ago, he said, and I am quoting from memory, that when he had a problem, he called Denis and they talked and figured things out.
The Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Economic Development do not have time to call each and every one of the mayors who have concerns. That is the job of the minister responsible for the region. We have been very well served in the past, and I am convinced that we would have been very well served by one of the ministers from Quebec.
Why get rid of this arrangement? All the power will end up in the hands of a single individual, who will naturally be biased towards his or her own province and region, or perhaps even his or her home town.
Need I remind the House that the government refused Bombardier's request for a handout of $1.3 billion of taxpayer money for the development of its C Series aircraft? It did eventually agree to a $135-million loan for the C Series, but also, surprise surprise, a loan of $200 million for the development of Global 7000. The C Series is manufactured in Mirabel. Does the House know where the Global 7000 is manufactured? Right near Mississauga, in the minister responsible for Canadian economic development's own backyard. There is no way this could be a coincidence. That is just one point I wanted to make about this. This is why it is important to have ministers responsible for regions who promote economic development and report to cabinet on behalf of their region, because they know what they are talking about.
I will move on to my second point. This bill turns five ministers of state into senior ministers and creates positions for three other ministers. However, we do not know exactly what they will be ministers of. I will call them phantom ministers to be polite, but others might say they are ministers of nothing. That is the wrong message to send. No one knows who the three positions created by this bill are for, or why they are being created, or what their portfolios will look like, but this bill wants to create them anyway. Come on. It is absurd.
The other thing this bill does is turn ministers of state into full or senior ministers. For what it is worth, this is where we see the ugly side of this selfie government, this image-obsessed government, this government that reacts to an image it does not like by changing course and forging ahead.
When the current cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall, the Prime Minister was quite proud to say that, for the first time in Canada's history, in 150 years of life in our beautiful and great country, we had a gender-balanced cabinet. He was asked why and said, “because it's 2015”. Everyone thought that was just great, the crowd cheered.
However, a few days later, at closer inspection people began to realize that this gender-balanced cabinet was a bit lopsided. The fact that ministers of state do not have the same power, the same salary, or even the same responsibilities as the other ministers knocked this parity off balance a bit. Surprise, surprise, the five ministers of state were women. There was no parity there.
The ministers of state, whom we can politely refer to as junior ministers, were women only. The Liberals realized that that was not good for their image and decided to fix that. Instead of appointing women to important cabinet positions, the Liberals changed the ministerial titles. They sharpened their pencils and crossed out the word “state” to end up with just minister. Then there is the matter of equal pay for equal skills and equal responsibilities. Skills are subjective, but people should get equal pay for equal work.
Not to diminish anyone's work, but we know that ministers of state do not have the same responsibilities as full ministers. That has always been the case and remains so today. It is almost insulting to regular ministers, if we can call them that to distinguish from ministers of state. There is nothing wrong with being a minister of state. On the contrary, it is a privilege. Here, we are not ashamed because we are in opposition and not in government. Though we may be many, all 338 of us represent the public equally.
People see that everyone has their responsibilities and that a minister of state does not have the same responsibilities as a full minister. For the Liberals' image, it is not a good thing because, as it so happens, the five ministers of state are all women. Quick, let us rename the position before anyone notices. That is not the way to do it and it shows without a doubt that this government is literally obsessed with its image. As a result, the government makes ridiculous decisions.
Bill C-24 is a perfect example. It does away with regional ministers, it gets rid of the title of five ministers of state and replaces them with three phantom ministers. We are not too sure who this bill is for, what the whole point of it is or what it will look like in the end, but this government's image takes precedence above all else. That is why we are going to vote against this bill.