Madam Speaker, today we have the opportunity to speak on a centralist bill that lacks transparency, turns its back on the regions, and glosses over ministerial inequality. I am referring, of course, to Bill C-24, the act to amend the Salaries Act.
Bill C-24 has received little media attention. However, it speaks volumes about this government's philosophy. We can learn much by thoroughly reviewing each element of this bill. That is what I propose we do for our next few minutes together. To begin with, let us take apart the facade and see what is behind this bill.
First of all, Bill C-24 creates eight new Liberal minister positions, namely five minister of state positions and three yet-to-be-determined ministerial positions. We have no idea what these positions will be. The goal is to ensure pay equity among all ministers in this gender-balanced cabinet. The ministers may receive the same salary, but there is nothing in this bill to ensure that they will be treated fairly and equally.
These new ministers of state will in fact be junior ministers. They will not have a deputy minister, they will have much smaller budgets and they will have fewer powers. A feminist government, as the Prime Minister himself has suggested, does not create new superficial positions for the appearance of parity. He should instead give the same number of men and women major departments, with substantial and equitable budgets. Parity and equity also mean an equal division of key positions in the government. This means that a first target has been missed by our Prime Minister.
Let us now take a closer look at the announcement of the three new ministers. It would appear that the Liberal cabinet is not yet complete. Today we would have to sign a blank cheque for three new ministerial positions that, after two years of governing, have not yet been identified. In other words, today we are to approve the appointment of three mystery ministers. I would even say that they are phantom ministers. Approving the appointment of these three ministers in this government, which claims to be transparent and accountable, is a second missed target.
We then learned that Bill C-24 will eliminate the positions of six ministers responsible for regional development agencies. That is painful.
The responsibilities of these regional development agencies will now be concentrated in the hands of a single minister. Currently, this minister comes from a major centre, Toronto. Imagine that: a minister responsible for regional economic development who comes from Toronto. This means that now a minister from the big city of Toronto will be responsible for regional development across the country. When it comes to listening to the regions and sharing powers, this is a third missed target.
We are therefore signing the death warrant of regional economic development ministers. These ministers, who were supposed to defend and represent the interests of their regions across Canada, at least had the advantage of being familiar with the people on the ground and especially their needs. They helped ensure better coordination with the regions, and they represented a diversity of voices at the cabinet table.
I doubt the Liberal government is giving a single minister all that power just to save money. Saving money is not really its thing. We have seen over and over again that this government is not afraid to spend money hand over fist. No, this decision speaks to the Liberal government's core philosophy and reflects the Liberals' concept of federalism.
By now, this should come as a surprise to nobody because it is something we have seen many times. The government took power away from municipalities when it created the infrastructure bank and the smart cities challenge. Its new passengers' bill of rights gave the Minister of Transport more power, it is restricting access to information from the offices of cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, and it alone is making decisions about the when, how, and who of legalizing marijuana by ignoring the provinces, municipalities, and indigenous communities.
The Liberals' brand of federalism features a centralizing, paternalistic government that wants to monopolize decision-making and does not respect the provinces' jurisdiction.
This summer, the Prime Minister said that appointing a member from Toronto to be minister responsible for all the regional economic development agencies in Canada was, and I quote, “a way of reducing the kind of politics that we’ve always seen from regional development”. That is an extremely simplistic way of looking at this.
I wonder what kind of politics the Prime Minister was referring to, because, to us, regional representation and accountability is the kind of policy that is absolutely welcome and legitimate. The Prime Minister seems too attached to his powers, incapable of trusting the expertise of others, and too worried about delegating responsibilities to anyone. This is one of the government's biggest aberrations since it came to power.
We also know that last fall, $150,000 from the Ontario economic development fund was given to a business in the riding of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, in Mississauga. Is this the type of politics the Prime Minister had in mind when he said he wanted to centralize powers?
Furthermore, a Liberal Atlantic caucus subcommittee indicated that it had had reports of a threefold increase in processing times at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency since a Toronto-area minister, a big-city minister, was appointed to oversee maritime regions. According to that same subcommittee, centralized decision-making impedes the agility of programs. This means that regional businesses that count on the regional development agencies will have to foot the bill for the new centralized model. On top of being affected by the finance minister's new tax reforms, job creators in our regions will be further disadvantaged by this Liberal government. These are all factors that are not helping our regions right now.
For a bill presented as a simple correction of a pay imbalance between ministers, we are both surprised and disappointed by its contents. It concentrates more power in the hands of a big-city elite. It creates three new ministerial positions that are shrouded in mystery. We know nothing about the duties these ministers will have. They are phantom ministers. It eliminates the positions of ministers responsible for regional economic development across Canada. It also increases processing times at the development agencies that are supposed to help our entrepreneurs. We are supposed to be working to help our entrepreneurs, but this bill throws roadblocks in their way.
Once again, the Liberal government has forgotten the regions all across Canada. It is not being transparent and is implementing a paternalistic and centralizing federalism. Worst of all, the aim of this bill, which is to ensure fairness among the ministers, is not even met.
Perhaps cabinet members will have the same salary, but they will not have the same responsibilities and powers. Key positions will still be given to a handful of men, as we see now. This means that Bill C-24 completely misses the mark.
In closing, the Liberal government, which keeps saying that it wants to be more transparent, reacted when the media and the opposition started scratching the surface and noticed that its so-called gender-balanced cabinet was really just for show. Indeed, there were very few women in key cabinet posts with all the powers that go along with them.
The government's solution was to come up with a kitchen sink bill in which it simply increased the number of ministers of state, who will not even have the same tools to work with, who will report to other people, namely, the Prime Minister and his office. He also used this as an opportunity to get rid of the regional economic development ministers across Canada, even though those ministers understood their region's local reality. All of these things combined spell disaster for all regions of Quebec.