Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in the debate on the throne speech. As we know, the objectives of the Government of Canada are very clear.
We want a Canada, and that includes the regions, with strong social foundations, where people are treated with dignity, where they are given a hand when needed and where no one is left behind. We want a country for Canadians. But we also want these vast regions of the country, and the individuals, families and communities that live in them, to have the tools they need to find local solutions to local problems.
We want a strong economy for the 21st century, with well-paying and meaningful work; ready at the forefront of the next big technological revolution; and built on a solid national foundation.
To this end, the Government of Canada is committed to a new deal for Canada’s municipalities, always in cooperation with the provinces, and this deal includes our large region of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.
Our region covers an area of some 802,000 square kilometres and has a population of about 100,000. The distance from the south to the north, is 2,000 kilometres. Ours is a vast Nordic and semi-urban region.
The Speech from the Throne talks about health issues. We already know that some projects are truly based on cooperation. We also know that a pilot project is currently underway in Val d'Or, in the Vallée de l'Or. The purpose of the project is to help address the shortage of doctors, because we know this shortage is a problem in remote areas.
Nonetheless, we know that the institutions, the committees set up in northern hospitals in Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, have found solutions. They are going to put together a multidisciplinary team of health professionals. This team will be responsible for monitoring the health of patients who require special care.
The Val-d'Or project is consistent with Quebec's desire to create an integrated services network, along the lines of hospital mergers, and always in cooperation with the Government of Canada.
Let us come back to our great region. We are talking mainly about regional and rural development. The Government therefore remains committed to supporting economic development through the regional agencies where the focus must be on strengthening the sinews of an economy for the 21st century, building on indigenous strength.
The government will develop a northern strategy, ensuring that economic development related to energy and mining is brought on stream in partnership with people in the know, in other words by forming associations with the provincial governments.
In November 2003, I wrote to the Minister of Natural Resources, who responded today, telling me that with respect to the Prospector's Association or the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association, its president, Pierre Bérubé, has made several interventions in the past few months to discuss mineral exploration. That is an example of how the government can find solutions in cooperation with people in the know.
However, we should look at the Speech from the Throne, which says we must work in partnership with northern Canadians. Agreements should be entered into by Quebec and Canada, like the ones that existed several years ago, which were made for the long term; these were five-year agreements.Cooperation with the provinces should be sought in order to be able to move forward with specific mining projects.
In northern Ontario, FedNor, the Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario, is collaborating very well with the people of the area to find solutions. That is what we want for Quebec. We have CED, Canada Economic Development, but that includes the big urban centres. We know that these large urban centres receive nearly 75% of the money available for regional development. We do not want to be a part of it.
In my riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, the paramount issue is communications. The people are talking about telecommunications and technology. But there is a problem in these vast regions, in the matter of broadband and the Internet. We know that, in smaller communities, the government is spending millions—so it has announced—but we must find a consensus.
We are seeing something else as well. There is the issue of licence renewal for Radio Nord Communications. The unionized employees have been on strike for over a year. Radio Nord has been closed since then. The union is demanding separate newscasts, better separation between radio and television, and adequate staffing covering the whole territory.
We know that the CRTC is responsible. When people come to talk to us in our region, they always say, “It is up to you, the government, to fix this”. But, in telecommunications, the CRTC makes the decisions, at arm's length from the government. The only thing we can do is to speak, as I am doing now, to pass the message along.
We know that the CRTC is very aware of what is going on in the House of Commons. It is important that the CRTC demand that the minimum number of minutes produced locally each week be increased. This is what business people in remote regions, and not just the union, want.
But let us get back to another issue that is really important in our vast region of 802,000 square kilometres. Ours is the largest federal electoral district in the ten provinces of Canada. I represent the only riding located north of the 60th parallel. It includes northern communities called northern villages, where the Inuit are currently living.
We are talking primarily about aboriginal and Inuit people. We know that we want to fully share our country's prosperity, but we also know that, as a whole, aboriginal people, be it the Cree, the Naskapi, the Algonquin or the Inuit, contribute to the economy. Everything that gets to their communities comes from the south, which means that people in the south also contribute to the economy. Some might say that the Inuit do not pay taxes, but that is not true. The Inuit from Nunavik pay taxes like all of us, like all the members of this House. They pay school taxes, federal and provincial income tax, and they contribute to the economy.
There are problems in that vast region of ours. We know that, in the Chapais-Chibougamau area, people really want to be involved in the mining and forestry sectors. The problem that we are currently experiencing with the United States regarding our softwood lumber is slowing down the economy. Currently, we may have fewer layoffs in our region because companies do not want to shut down. They want to put people to work and so on.
Even though our government says in the throne speech that we will be involved in the mining and forestry sectors, a long term solution must be found regarding softwood lumber and agriculture. The United States has been trying to get at us for 50 years through our softwood lumber. They have imposed a tax and anti-dumping duties. Still, in our regions, whether it is Val-d'Or, Senneterre, Lebel-sur-Quévillon, Matagami, Chapais-Chibougamau or James Bay, the forestry sector is really important.
When we take a close look at what is going on with agriculture in a northern region such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, we realize that there is a national crisis. It happened in western Canada, but the situation back home is really serious. I often ask my government to create programs that do not have a set duration, but rather an indeterminate one. This national crisis could last two or three years. The government is aware of what is going on in other countries.
The throne speech says that the government will work to foster a technologically advanced agricultural sector and find solutions to ensure the survival of farmers. Therefore, I am telling the government that a permanent program is needed, not one with a specific end date; for example, saying that it will end December 31 this year, and then start all over again. As always, action must be taken in collaboration with the provinces.
Currently, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the situation with regard to farming and the mad cow crisis is not the same as in southern Quebec. We know what is happening. I was talking with Alain Richard, the President of the UPA, who said that the issues are not the same. The governments of Canada and Quebec have done everything possible to ensure it is the best program. That is what we want. We know this is a national crisis. It is going to last two or three years.
An agreement regarding the James Bay Cree was signed on November 11, 1975. The government should respect the James Bay agreement. The great chief, Dr. Ted Moses, and all the chiefs of Cree communities along James Bay have been making demands for several months now, particularly with regard to housing.
In these communities, housing is critical. Even nowadays, in Cree communities in James Bay and Inuit communities in Nunavik, 15 to 18 people can share a two-bedroom house. Approximately 5 or 6 kids will share one room. The throne speech said that housing solutions must be found, and not just in the major urban centres. We need to think about housing in aboriginal communities, both Inuit and non-Inuit.
You know how it works. Everything comes from the south: wood, windows and all manner of other things. In other words, the aboriginal people and the Inuit are part of this economy along with the people in the south.
As far as Nunavik is concerned, in that huge riding, fishing is an issue. Fishing, shrimp fishing in particular, is a means of survival for the Inuit of Nunavik. We know there are quotas. In the north, there are beluga quotas. The Inuit have a limit of 14 per community, but would like that number to be 20. We know there is overhunting. However, I think the government should increase the quotas for the communities in Nunavik, because if they are too low, people are just going to hunt on the sly. I would rather see them hunt in the open, with improved quotas.
In the throne speech, the Government of Canada stated the intention to seek solutions for all the aboriginal communities in my riding.
Now, to go back to the mining sector, since we are talking about local problems. This is an opportunity to speak about what is going on in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, James Bay and Nunavik. People will say that is far away.
Mining is important there. It takes seven years to get a mine up and running. There is a problem in Matagami at this time, one to which the people are trying to find a solution. They know that one of the mines is about to close. Mines are closing all over Canada. If the ore is exhausted, then a new mine must be found.
The people at the Noranda mine already have a project called Espérance, but they are waiting for the price of copper or zinc to go up enough before they start up. The workers in that region are really far—approximately 250 kilometres away—from any big city in the south. A way must be found for Noranda to get this project under way in order to ensure the people of long term employment.
The throne speech contains many wishes, but we know nothing will be fixed right away. A budget is needed. The government, through the Minister of Finance, can put a program in place at any point in the year, as far as mining operations are concerned.
In conclusion, it is really important to find solutions for remote areas. If we look at the issue of primary resources, in the forest industry, 68% of our primary resource in softwood lumber is processed in major urban centres. It is transported over 500 kilometres to the south. In its Speech from the Throne, the government supports us with respect to secondary and tertiary processing.
It is not easy for a promoter who wants to bring a project to the table. We need to find new ways of handing the financing. The Business Development Bank of Canada can help with loans, and also with the softwood lumber crisis. People are talking. There is $2 billion in an account at the border. The United States said, in an agreement in principle, that it is prepared to reimburse 52%. If it is prepared to say we will get 52% back, I am all for it. Let them free that money up and return it for Canadian industries to use. As much as $1 billion could be made available for the industries to use.
In the end, with respect to the softwood lumber crisis, I would still prefer action, a specific judgment, a legal result so that we can win in the long run. Nonetheless, in the meantime, if they want to repay 52% of the money that has already been paid out, they could return it to Canadian forest companies. We are talking about $1 billion that is sitting somewhere. It could help the forest companies. Many of them do not lay off anyone. The employees continue to work at the expense of profits.
In the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister of Canada clearly said we would move forward and find new approaches. Together, we will be able to find solutions. It will not be easy, but we must work together in cooperation with all the political parties, for the future of our young people in particular.