Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in the debate on Bill C-9, an act to establish the economic development agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec.
It is my understanding that the purpose of the act is to promote the development and diversification of the economy in the regions of Quebec.
The NDP supports establishing the economic development agency for the regions of Quebec as an individual legal entity. We think this is making the move from a program in Industry Canada to being a stand-alone agency.
The federal government's ability to bring money into a region and decide what organizations benefit from it for many areas can be the most public example and sometimes the most controversial example of government policy. Most of the government's economic development is focused exclusively on the private sector, but there are many other organizations that can contribute to a region's prosperity.
We in the NDP would argue that Bill C-9 could be improved by specific reference to community economic development, which is what I will be focusing my remarks on this afternoon.
I did appreciate hearing from my Bloc colleague who spoke previously about some of the larger and more specific issues facing the regions of Quebec, issues like transportation, infrastructure and employment insurance polices. We in the NDP are also very concerned about addressing those issues, but this afternoon I want to talk about community economic development in particular.
In the last budget, the government promised $132 million for community economic development across the country. Community economic development is not a short term project, however. Unfortunately, that is how most government funding is promoted, in the short term category. Seventeen million dollars of the funding that was announced are planned for a two year capacity building pilot project so that the government can learn more about community economic development.
As Mike Lewis, the director of the Centre for Community Enterprise said, “This should be a part of a long term strategy, not short term project based funding if the government truly wants to build capacity in a community economic development sector”.
Focusing on short term project based funding does create capacity but it does not create trust or cooperation among community groups. What is needed instead is an integrated policy relationship where ministries and agencies allow the groups that have already done the research to educate the bureaucrats instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on short term projects that will not produce long term gain.
Now it is the chantier de l'économie sociale in Quebec that will deal with this funding through the new organization that we are debating creating today.
Community economic development is known as social economy in Quebec and has proven very successful. Overall in Quebec the social economy sector, without even counting financial co-operatives, the two largest agricultural co-ops or the community action networks, is made up of over 6,200 co-operatives and non-profit enterprises that employ 65,000 people and generate over $4.3 billion in sales. It is an important sector in the economy of Quebec.
Community economic development improves the whole community and not just the business sector. A stronger community leads directly to a stronger economy.
Community economic development uses triple bottom line accounting. It considers the environmental, the social issues and the economic factors when doing economic planning. This is a far more holistic approach to economic development.
We would like to thank the centre for community economic development at Simon Fraser University, which is in my riding of Burnaby--Douglas, for its descriptions of community economic development which we used to prepare our remarks today.
Community economic development can be described as a community based and community directed process that explicitly combines social and economic development and is directed toward fostering the economic, social, ecological and cultural well-being of communities and regions.
Community economic development has emerged as an alternative to conventional approaches to economic development. It is founded on the belief that problems facing communities, such as unemployment, poverty, job loss, environmental degradation, economic instability and loss of community control, need to be addressed in a holistic and participatory way.
The background information that the government sent out to accompany Bill C-9 talked about small and medium sized enterprises. This is a recognition that in smaller communities, unless there is a resource nearby to exploit, it will not be a large corporation that brings in the jobs but many small businesses. There is already an emphasis in the bill on smaller enterprise and that makes a connection to community economic development even more possible and, hopefully, more likely.
The following principles underline community economic development, which is an evolving and ongoing process.
Equity: Community economic development is based on the principle of fairness and the belief that community members should have equitable access to community decision making processes, resources and the benefits of community economic development projects.
Participation: Community economic development encourages the active participation of all members of the community in the planning, decision making and benefits of community economic development initiatives and works to remove the barriers that limit the participation of marginalized citizens.
Community building: Community economic development seeks a sense of community by fostering relationships of acceptance, understanding and mutual respect.
Cooperation and collaboration: Community economic development recognizes that there are important linkages and connections between communities and regions and that many problems cannot be addressed in isolation. Community economic development, therefore, encourages relationships based on cooperation and collaboration.
Self-reliance and community control: Community economic development builds on local strengths, creativity and resources, and actively seeks to decrease dependency on invulnerability to economic interests outside the community and region. Furthermore, community economic development supports decentralized, non-hierarchical decision making processes that strengthen the autonomy of the individual, the community and the region.
Integration: Community economic development recognizes that the healthy development of communities requires a holistic approach that addresses the social, economic, cultural and ecological dimensions of community well-being.
Interdependence: Community economic development recognizes that the local community exists within the context of a larger complex web of relationships and that its decisions can have an impact far beyond its own boundaries. Therefore, community economic development embraces strategies that aim to benefit the local and the larger community.
Living within ecological limits: Community economic development recognizes that the social, cultural and economic well-being of the community depends on healthy local, regional and global ecosystems and that there are real ecological limits to human economic activities. Therefore, community economic development encourages processes, structures and initiatives that respect these ecological limits and supports work that is sustaining, regenerating and nurturing of both the community and the earth.
Capacity building: Community economic development contributes to self-reliance by encouraging the acquisition of relevant skills and the development of supportive structures and institutions.
Diversity: Community economic development contributes to self-reliance by encouraging economic activities that are diverse and appropriate to the express needs within the community and region. As a result, community economic development looks different in each community.
Appropriate indicators: Community economic development monitors and evaluates its progress through community derived and appropriate economic, social, cultural and ecological indicators rather than through conventional measures and standards.
That is a long list but I think it indicates how community economic development approaches are perfectly suited to the needs of a regional economic development agency.
It might seem like a bit of a digression but I want to talk briefly about the issue of literacy. We celebrated National Literacy Day just a few weeks ago. Improving adult literacy skills is one area of community economic development that needs more attention. We think that should be part of the mandate of all of Canada's regional development agencies.
The skills that a community workforce needs change as the community moves from a resource or farming economy to one based on knowledge or tourism. Overall, workers from agriculture, fishing and forestry occupations have shown lower literacy skills than other working age adults. In some parts of Canada nearly half the working age adults do not have the necessary literacy skills to work in knowledge economy jobs.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has reported that 33% of Canadian businesses reported training problems because of low literacy rates. How can any community build its overall economic social and environmental capacity when half the people available to make that happen do not have the needed skills. It is a national shame that we do not work harder to provide all of our citizens with the training they need throughout their lifetime when we expect all workers to continually upgrade their skills.
Regional development agencies should be empowered to help train adult workers in literacy skills in both of our official languages. Education and training are part of the building blocks to building a strong and prosperous economy.
In conclusion, let me reiterate the NDP's support for the establishment of the economic development agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec. We also urge the government to ensure that community economic development, the social economy, is central to the activities of the agency.
My colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, will be working hard on this legislation and looks forward to continuing the discussion on the bill in committee on behalf of the NDP.