Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak today on Bill C-9 to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.
I will admit, to begin with, that I would much rather ask the following question: is there any future for the regions? For example,does Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, the region from which I come, have a future? I think this is illustrative of the basic issue confronting us in connection with this bill.
It would be a good thing if the bill were aimed at improving the situation and permitting all the money allocated to local and regional development to go to Quebec, where there are resources and structures. I do not want to see what is already in place shunted aside, the CFDC and other resources.
There are certain resources already available on the federal level. I would pay acknowledge the efforts of staff, both past and present, of Economic Development Canada or the CFDC, the community futures development corporations in the Quebec region. I think there are 57 of these corporations in all and their contribution certainly deserves recognition.
In Canada, when we talk about regions, when the issue is about my region, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, for instance, we can say that that word does not exist in the vocabulary. When we talk about regions in the Canadian sense of that term, we talk about Quebec as a whole. There are 18 regions in Quebec. In the federal system, one does not talk about a region per se, such as Gaspésie-les-Îles or Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean or others, but about Quebec in its entirety.
When we talk about local and regional development, that is where this becomes important. One realizes that Quebec has its own specific tools, such as the local investment centres, now also called local investment funds, which revolve around various structures, headed and funded by Quebec. These tools boost local and regional development.
The bill before us is such that we find ourselves in a situation where programs are not changed, and neither are budgets. So, in my region, one realizes at the end of the day that it is possible to make considerable headway while having a very good grasp of issues as they play out in our local environment.
I draw attention here to Histoire de la Gaspésie , written by Marc Desjardins, Yves Frenette, Jules Bélanger and Bernard Hétu, a book to which something was added recently. When one looks at the history of the Gaspé region, specifically with respect to demographics, one realizes that in 1870—it was thus quite a while ago—there were 31,480 inhabitants. By 1960, the number had jumped to 104,824. Yes, we can talk about development, an increase, the demographic factor.
However, the situation today is the following. In 1960, there were 104,824 inhabitants. In 2001, there were 99,886. We are talking about the Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine region. In 2004, this year, the numbers are very worrisome. We are talking about approximately 97,000 inhabitants.
There is a serious decrease in population. By their very nature, figures sometimes allow us to make projections. Accordingly, looking ahead to 2021, we foresee a population of only 86,000 people in the Gaspésie and Îles-de-la-Madeleine region. This means that we are getting back to the figures prevailing in 1940. It also reflects the reality we live in, and shows that we have a very important job to do to ensure that this region as well as other Quebec regions can overcome some very serious problems, including outmigration and socio-economic challenges.
In that context, the minister's proposal is basically to create an agency responsible for I know not what exactly. In the statement or the briefing document that we received concerning the bill, the department itself mentions that this legislation does not entail any foreseeable consequence on the programming and on the present client base of the agency. What does that mean exactly? It means that we end up with a department that is already telling us that Bill C-9 will not change in any way the real tools we should use. I think that the Bloc Québécois members, at least this is my view, would rather approve a scheme to transfer the $400 million that are being spent or invested by the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec so that these funds could be used by the people who work on these files, once the necessary resources and employees are transferred.
C-9 is nothing more than duplication. It also shows that we are stuck with a federal government that forgets that by creating a new structure, it is not addressing the real issues. I think the federal government should pay more attention to its own responsibilities and stick to its own jurisdiction. Speaking about responsibilities, this reminds us of the mess it made in areas like fisheries, employment insurance, VIA Rail, Air Canada, and so forth. I believe that the government could be much more effective if it paid more attention to its own responsibilities, namely in the fisheries area.
This brings me to what is going on in the fisheries. To get some idea of the problems, one only has to visit port facilities throughout Quebec. We recently had the opportunity to tour the maritime areas of Quebec. I was accompanied by the hon. member for Manicouagan and the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia. We saw some terrible things. We have a government, a department which does not fulfill its own obligations, namely to provide fishers and boaters, as well as all potential port users, with facilities which are well maintained and repaired.
The efforts of the Bloc Québécois in recent years helped get much more money, but not enough to deal adequately with the needs. In 2000-01, there was a $50 million budget for Canada's entire small craft harbours program. Such an amount is not only insufficient, but ludicrous. Because of this ludicrous situation, an additional amount of $20 million a year, starting in 2002, has been allocated for the next five years. The Bloc Québécois was instrumental in getting this modest budget increase.
However, the efforts made regarding this issue are really inadequate, considering the needs. Based on some estimates—and the reality may actually be even worse—we are talking about an amount of over $500 million to repair or maintain small craft harbours across Canada.
Year in and year out, the budget is only a few tens of millions of dollars. This means that we are postponing the solving of existing problems. Assuming one's real responsibilities would mean to earmark large budgets for small craft harbours.
Currently, there are some horror stories in Grande-Vallée, Rivière-au-Renard and Cannes-de-Roches, in the Gaspé Peninsula. I had the opportunity to visit some facilities and to talk to people about these issues. I can say that, when it comes to the federal government's initiatives, as they relate to its responsibilities regarding fishing infrastructures, these people do not beat around the bush and they are totally unsatisfied.
This bill does not change anything in terms of budgets and programs, and the department keeps telling us that, in the end, it will have no impact on the agency's current program and clientele. This is a bill that merely seeks to increase visibility and that will ultimately result in duplication.
This duplication will generate real problems. The real issue is demography. At the beginning of my speech, I alluded to what will happen in the regions in terms of demographics, and to the fact that, by the year 2021, the population will be the same as it was in 1940. This is not what we call progress. This is not an improvement. This is not what we call building a future, a promising one.
This is why it is very important that the federal government, considering the resources that it has available and the existing fiscal imbalance, ensures that this money can be transferred to Quebec, which can really look after our own business in a proper and responsible manner.
When it comes to examples showing what is currently happening, let me say that, unfortunately, there are many. The railway system is really in a state of neglect, or even inappropriate. Furthermore, there is passenger train service in the Gaspé Peninsula only three days a week. Service is provided only three days a week, not seven days a week. Air transport is deficient, indeed practically almost inoperable. Flight schedules are inadequate. There are few airlines to choose from, and so on.
I occasionally use air travel. Therefore, I can say that it is inaccessible because of cost. Indeed, we are not talking about a few hundred dollars, but nearly a thousand dollars to travel between Montreal and the Gaspé Peninsula, or between Montreal and the Magdalen Islands. For this price, on could easily go to Europe. That having been said, in 2004, I do not think that this reflects an honest effort or what could be a situation where proper services are offered.
There is also the employment insurance file. This is a real mess. I have had the opportunity—and that is part of my reason for being in politics—to meet a lot of people in connection with this file. This is something I have experienced myself, as a resident of the Gaspé—Magdalen Islands area, and I am experiencing it again today. In that context, when we look at the results, at the way the federal government handled its responsibilities, and the way it could have handled them, we realize that it is certainly not by introducing a bill like this one, which changes nothing and simply seeks to create duplication, that it will resolve any problem whatsoever.
This duplication shows that the new department goes far beyond the current Canada Economic Development.
We are talking about a real federal department of regional development for Quebec. The bill says that the minister shall guide, promote and coordinate federal policiesand programs in relation to the development anddiversification of the economy of the regionsof Quebec. His mandate includes all federal activities in the regions.
Accordingly, in cooperation with other concernedfederal ministers and boards and agencies, the minister shall formulate and implementpolicies, plans and integrated federalapproaches.
Integrated federal approaches says it all. That's the real issue. The minister will in fact be responsible for the impacts of all federal programs on the regions.
We certainly do not want any integrated federal approaches to the development of Quebec's regions. The regions do need an integrated development strategy, but only Quebec is able to implement it. I think this is the crux of the matter, the crux of what Bill C-9 can represent and the crux of what is fundamentally at stake here.
We already know that the Constitution gives Quebec responsibility over most matters relating to regional development. I remind hon. members of what I said at the beginning: regions for Canada and regions for Quebec are two different things.
When reference is made to regions of Canada, this certainly does not mean regions like Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, or Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for instance. It means Quebec as a whole. In Canada, the regions mean the Atlantic region—which includes more than one province—Quebec, Ontario and the west.
But when we speak of regions, we mean regions like Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, where we have six RCMs, or county regional municipalities, for a population that now numbers under 100,000, as I have said. With demographic projections as they are, we obviously need a really big hand up.
I think that we owe a vote of thanks to the men and women who have worked on economic recovery plans. I will touch on the federal plans, but first I will take a moment to talk about the Quebec plan. That effort has been translated into concrete action and a plan, as far as the development of my region is concerned.
Although the figures are still pretty alarming, we have seen slightly fewer young people leaving these past few years. This positive effect on the very serious problem of our youth exodus is the result of a recovery plan that has been created and implemented by Quebec.
Now for the federal plan. Just prior to the 2000 election campaign, an announcement was made in our region about a three-year $35 million recovery plan. Three years would bring us now to the end of the program, but imagine this, over time, it has been turned into a five-year plan.
If we do the math, we see that the plan, rather than injecting $35 million into the region by March 31, 2004, has put in $13.2 million. This is an example of how this government fulfils its responsibilities. It is therefore very important to look the situation squarely in the face and ensure that help is really forthcoming to regions such as Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.