Mr. Speaker, as the representative for the riding of Pontiac, in the beautiful province of Quebec, I am very happy to have the opportunity to address the House in considering the bill on the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.
This bill is aimed at establishing the framework for the agency's activities in the coming years in Abitibi, the Outaouais, Quebec City, the Greater Montreal area, in all of Quebec's regions.
With this bill, the agency will have the means to carry out its mandate to the extent expected of an agency in tune with the 21st century.
If this bill is passed, the agency will be able to keep on addressing the needs of all Canadians, in keeping with this government's commitment. The bill before us today must be seen as part of a continuum.
Indeed, it was once again a Liberal government that, in 1969, created the Department of Regional Economic Expansion, a forerunner of the Economic Development Agency ofCanada for the Regions of Quebec. Our government is strongly committed to leveling out regional disparities in Canada and is giving itself the means to do so.
As you will see, this government's confidence in all Canadians goes a long way back. Each and every one of them must have the same opportunities with regard to the pursuit of wellness. We have always believed that all our fellow citizens must be able to realize their full potential, regardless of the region where they live.
The Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec has a very important role to play in order to help the government of Canada ensure the prosperity of all our fellow citizens from the regions of Quebec. The agency's mandate is to promote the economic development of Quebec regions, including those with low income levels, slow economic growth or insufficient productive employment possibilities. It also focuses on long-term economic development, employment and sustainable revenue.
The agency's mandate is also to concentrate on small and medium-sized enterprises and to promote entrepreneurial capabilities. We all know that SMEs are an important part of Quebec's economy. They account for 43% of all jobs and contribute 29% of manufacturing value added.
Over the years, the agency has tried to give SMEs, the true engine of economic growth in Quebec, the most useful information on government resources that can help them to keep on growing.
I would now like to tell the House about something that occurred last week in my riding, a resource area of Quebec where lumber from our forests is processed and from where products are sold across Canada and exported to the US. Some citizens of my riding of Pontiac import lumber from Peru. People import lumber from Peru in the Outaouais region of Quebec, specifically in the riding of Pontiac, in the municipality of Déléage. Why?
Simply put, through Canada Economic Development, support is provided to a Quebec company importing wood from Peru for secondary and tertiary processing in the county of Pontiac, manufacturing mouldings and solid core doors for sale on the Canadian, Quebec and U.S. markets. This is creating jobs in our region, in our ridings where people need jobs as well as support from the various levels of government. That is what Canada Economic Development is offering.
In partnership with organizations such as Info Entreprises in Montreal and Ressources Entreprises in Quebec City, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec can answer more than one million—that is right, one million—inquiries annually about government programs. This goes to show that there is a need. Canada Economic Development handles one million inquiries. That is incredible.
This is also an opportunity to refer entrepreneurs to other departments of the Government of Canada or other local players such as the CLDs and CFDCs. These are our partners; we must work together to develop our regions. Who better than them can help make wise decisions and pursue projects?
The agency acts as a catalyst in promoting the economic development of the regions of Quebec. Through its 14 business offices, the agency is present and securely anchored in each of the regions of Quebec. This strong presence enables the Government of Canada to make a contribution to the development of SMEs in Quebec and the regions. I did say that the government makes a contribution in partnership with other stakeholders. We have to work together for the community and to develop our beautiful province of Quebec within a strong Canada.
In this context, the agency teams up with a broad network of development agents in each region of Quebec. By funding these organizations and facilitating their networking, the agency moves closer to citizens and the different regional realities, and offers local economic agents the opportunity of contributing to the development of their economy. For example, the agency works closely with the Alliance numériQC, Enviro-Access, and BioQuébec to promote innovation in enterprises.
The agency also works closely with World Trade Centre Montreal and a network of regional export-assistance organizations—we will recall the example I mentioned earlier—to contribute to the attainment of national objectives for development of international markets, so that Quebec can be present on both national and international markets. That is just what we want as Quebeckers: to be present. That is great.
By its actions, the agency promotes the implementation of development projects that would not occur without its assistance or that would be postponed and could possibly be abandoned, something that would deny the Quebec regions some obvious material benefits as far as prosperity and the improvement of regional quality of life is concerned. According to data compiled by the agency for the year 2003-2004, 73.9% of its clients indicated that they could not have implemented their projects without the agency's financial support. We can be proud of that. The agency committed to contribute more than $1.02 billion to finance the implementation of 2,116 projects in 2003-04.
If we add the amounts provided by other lenders to the Agency's contributions, the total value of these 2,116 projects will reach more than $3.9 billion in all Quebec regions for 2003-2004.
Moreover, as of March 31, 2004, these 2,116 projects had already contributed, directly or indirectly, to the creation, transformation and maintenance of more than 13,671 jobs throughout Quebec.
I can tell you that in my riding, the agency has brought hope to entrepreneurs.