Mr. Speaker, at the end of my speech yesterday, I talked about programs favouring Ontario. I mentioned that when the government funds GM to close its only plant in Quebec, a plant that was planning to produce auto parts with Quebec's primary resources--, it helps Ontario with Quebec's money and primary resources.
When the Liberal government spends billions of dollars to fund oil industries of the west as well as of Atlantic provinces, it helps these provinces with 25% of Quebec's contributions, but it stubbornly refuses to harmonize the financial support to Quebec's mining industries with flow-through shares that favour research.
Then, they quickly say to Quebekers that they benefit from charity that equalization payments represent. That is what distressing. You understand of course why, today, we firmly oppose this bill, which is a step in the Canadian nation building process in Quebec.
This is another case of interference in the fields of jurisdiction of the Quebec nation and of other provinces, that do not consider that to be duplication since they do not have a regional development department like Quebec.
Quebec, with its regional development department, the oldest in this Confederation, has a vested right in its territorial development.
The argument put forth by the Minister responsible for the Francophonie, that this government could claim any jurisdiction not specified in the Constitution, will not fly. This Constitution was not, in fact, signed by Quebec.
The development strategy must include such diverse elements as natural resources, education and training, municipal affairs, land use and infrastructure, among others. None of these come under Ottawa's jurisdiction.
This bill goes way beyond EDC's mandate. We are talking about a real federal department responsible for the development of Quebec regions.
One has only to look at clauses 4(3) and 4(4) and at clauses 5, 6, 10 and 11. In fact, in clause 11(2), there is another secret door that enables the agency to take on any other role as the governor in council sees fit. However, beyond these powers of intrusion in Quebec's jurisdictions, Economic Development Canada's authorities, programs and budgets remain unchanged.
In the information document provided with the bill, the department states that there should be no impact on the agency's current programs and clients. How useful can this agency be, then, except for its additional encroachment powers?
We recognize that the Quebec regions need an integrated development strategy that only the state of Quebec can put in place. We do not think that the federal government has the capacity or the right to infringe on Quebec's jurisdiction in the establishment of an integrated federal development strategy for the Quebec regions.
We have in my riding a strange situation that does not require a lot of federal funds. It has to do with the first nations' post-secondary education. The former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development--and I am sure the philosophy has not changed much since we are still dealing with the same old party--preferred to waste more than a million dollars a year to remove first nations students from their communities and their families, paying their travel and living expenses in order to relocate them thousands of kilometres away from their families rather than investing less than $3 million on a native university building to allow these students to attend university in their own region or nearby.
Given the time it took to process this request, this building could now be operational. Instead, the university is now forced to refuse first nations students' applications due to a lack of space. Thus, the government prefers to keep wasting millions of dollars annually, rather than investing a fixed amount of money that would certainly be far from the amount involved in the scandal that is badly tarnishing the credibility of this government.
In this very file, stakeholders, including myself, have rightly turned to Canada Economic Development which, according to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, was responsible for infrastructure. They received just about the same answer as that from the Department of Indian Affairs, namely that nobody has the mandate, or the budget, or neither one nor the other. Actually, all ministers of this government seem to have but one mandate, that of assuming as their own all jurisdiction over the powers of Quebec and of the provinces, despite their chronic inability to fulfil their responsibilities in their own jurisdictions.
Whether or not the other provinces put up with this, I am always glad for them and I will always be happy to support them in their approach. However, believe me, I am a Quebecker, elected by Quebeckers, most of whom--and it is even unanimous in the Quebec National Assembly--have the same vision of the needs and aspirations of Quebec, regardless of all the respect and friendship we have for all the inhabitants of the provinces that surround us.
Just as we did not do in their case, we ask representatives of the other provinces to avoid supporting the unjustified interference of this government in Quebec's jurisdictions.
Sure, occasionally, we compare ourselves to them, but this is by no means out of jealousy or envy. It is simply to say that we have respected their difference, we have agreed to participate in their development and their evolution, or we wish to back up a comparison and to request our fair share in this system, for the time we have participated in it and that which remains for us to participate in it.
The example I would like to mention at this time has to do with the University of First Nations in Alberta, which required some ten million dollars, compared with the lesser amount we are calling for, an amount we know to be relevant and justified currently. For that purpose, it should not be necessary to have the Canada Economic Development Agency. It would suffice to have a Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development possessing the programs, budgets and tools necessary for the development of its communities until the transfer of those responsibilities to the Quebec government, with the adequate and necessary budgets for their administration.
When Her Excellency the Governor General recommends to the House of Commons the establishment of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, it concerns the assignment of political issues. I read the bill, and it does not mention any change concerning the investment of new money. At any rate, I do not think Her Excellency paused a single moment to think about her own ignorance and that of previous governments about the needs of Quebec.
To illustrate my point, let me simply refer to clause 10 in Bill C-9. It says that the object of the agency is to promotethe development and diversification of theeconomy of the regions of Quebec throughspecial measures, and through the advocacy of the interests of Quebec in national policy. Could anybody tell us, for once, what the national policy is on Quebec?
Like Trudeau said, in a very Anglo-Saxon way, Ontario had the automobile industry, and Quebec the aerospace industry. But he did not specify that this would include added value goods that could be used to produce cars. He did not specify either that when the aerospace industry would be viable, it would be shared with all the rest of Canada.
Nor did he specify that in a premeditated manner he had hoped to destroy thousands of hectares of the most fertile land in Quebec and waste money there that was meant for Quebeckers in a futile and unproductive investment, thereby giving Ontario produce farmers privileged access to Quebec markets, while rerouting most of the airlines to other regions in Canada.
When we read the responses of some of the ministers from Quebec in this government, we have to assume that money and limousines must appeal to some people. That appeal is lost on me. There must be a greater difference than I thought between the need to be a politician and the need to defend the interests of one's constituents.
I take issue with the minister saying that Quebec should learn to share the aerospace sector with Canada, especially considering the person who said this and the fact that it has to do with Bombardier, a Quebec flagship.
I think most of the members of this government do not understand Quebec's needs and the remaining minority do not have the courage to speak up for fear of being marginalized in this wonderful Liberal family.
All Quebec needs is for this agency to be strictly limited to federal jurisdiction. For that reason, and as presented, we cannot support such a bill.
I now would like to talk about Bill C-9 from a constitutional point of view. We believe that this bill is part of a broader plan, namely to give the federal government all the tools it needs to behave as a true national government.
It wants to be the main architect of development across the country. Provincial governments, deprived of any decision-making power, will carry out its orders just like municipalities, universities, hospitals and so on, which will become mere extensions.
To prove that Ottawa is no longer behaving as a federal government, but as a national state government, allow me to list some of the initiatives carried out by Ottawa over the past few years and those being carried out now, which encroach on the jurisdictions of the nation of Quebec.
We are talking, among others, about the millennium scholarships, rural policy, volunteer and community policy, national strategy on rural development, university chairs, sponsorship program, numerous culture subsidy programs, national housing strategy, national homelessness strategy, early childhood assistance, not to mention the current Liberal plan for municipalities.
The current government is no different from its predecessor after all. It is only interested in nation building, promoted by Mr. Chrétien and only Quebec seems to be opposed to it. We did have Manitoba's Louis Riel, but Conservatives may remember they hanged him. It would be more difficult to do the same in Quebec today. It might be time for Conservatives to avoid making the same mistake they made with Louis Riel.
We know that the federal government is embarking in all those initiatives without any constitutional legitimacy. The current government could not care less about constitutional legitimacy as it is focussed on transforming this already deficient federation into a unitary nation state.
Things would be so much simpler if the government across the way had the honesty to tell Quebeckers that the ultimate goal of the federal state is to ensure that in the future everything will be decided in Ottawa and its government will be considered as the national Government of Canada. Canada will have then finally succeeded in provincializing the Quebec state forever, trivializing the identity and aspirations of its people, which is very legitimately developing its claim to nationhood.
Some might wonder where the money the federal government uses to fund all these initiatives comes from. We can already guess the answer. As a matter of fact, it was once again announced today. It comes from the fiscal imbalance and the budget surpluses.
Why does the federal government go out its way to deny the existence of a fiscal imbalance? Actually, the government does not see it as an imbalance but as a financial mechanism allowing it to assume those new responsibilities it has unilaterally conferred upon itself. Is that approach based on the spirit of the social union agreement? As a matter of fact, does the agreement allow this government to play the role of sole national state in this confederation, which has no legitimacy as far as Quebec is concerned? This is a question we must ask ourselves.
In spite of all the powers that most of the government's departments already have, namely in areas like rail transportation, communications, federal infrastructure in Quebec, the federal research institutes, bridges and some highways, shipping and support to natives, this government could have made its presence known in the last 20 years in Quebec.
There was no need for an Economic Development Agency of Canada. The government had all it needed but it did nothing, nor will it with this new agency. It is not even shy about announcing that this agency will only be a means to increase the government's control over Quebec's jurisdiction.
This is also an opportunity to remember that the constitutional status quo that is sometimes used to define the status of Quebec in Canada no longer really exists. On the contrary, Canada is developing in a very dynamic way. The structure of its functioning has been completely reshaped since the referendum of 1995. In that context, talking about the status quo as an option for Quebecers is a deceit.
In that regard, polling firms should drop the concept of status quo from their terminology, because this concept is no longer in line with the Canadian reality, except for those who prefer to put their head in the sand and avoid dealing with the constitutional issue.
In conclusion, I would like to remind this House that Quebec is a nation and must be treated as such. This is why the Bloc Québécois will oppose any federal initiative which would allow the government to interfere in Quebec's national matters. Again, the Bloc invites the elected representatives who are not part of this large Liberal family to respect the decision of the National Assembly of Quebec, as its own elective representatives did for their province.
Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of respect for the work done by the hon. member but, frankly, the reply is pathetic.
Subsection 36(1) of the Constitution is very clear: the federal government is responsible for dealing with regional disparities and for reducing them. This is the only reference in the Constitution to something that is closely or remotely related to regional development. I invite the hon. member to read the Constitution.
Second, in his speech, the hon. member said that we are not doing anything. I want to take a few minutes to discuss this point.
Take the Lower St. Lawrence region. The Centre de recherche sur les biotechnologies marines, the Corporation Québec-Maritimes, Glendyne Inc., the Jardins de Métis and the Centre interdisciplinaire de développement en cartographie des océans are among the initiatives in which we are involved. These also include the Centre techno-pneus Inc., Biotechnologies Océanova, the Camp musical Saint-Alexandre, Almar WBC Inc., and the Banc d'essai de démonstrateur sur le Saint-Laurent.
In the Abitibi, we are involved in the Avionnerie Val-d'Or, the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the COREM, the Ordre des Conquérants du Nord, the Société économique de Kitcisakik, Roberge et fils, and, once again, the Université du Québec.
For all of Quebec, the list includes Multifoam International, VisuAide Inc., the Manoir du Lac William, the Société historique d'Odanak, SIXPRO and Foresbec Inc. And we are told that we are not doing anything. Let me continue.
In the Chaudière-Appalaches region, there is OmegaChem, the Fonderie Poitras, C.G. Air Systèmes Inc., Acoustitec Inc, A.D. Boivin Design Inc., Électronique S.E.M. Inc., Fins Gourmands Inc., R.C.M. Modulaire Inc., Armoires de cuisine Milmonde Inc., Canots Esqif Inc.
As for the North Shore region, there is Tourbière Homer Bélanger, Bersaco and the Corporation Québec-Maritimes. And we are not doing anything in the region. I have more examples. There is also the Centre d'aide en technologie aux entreprises. Just a few days ago, I inaugurated the Centre des technologies de l'aluminium, in the Saguenay. We also helped the Institut Maurice-Lamontagne, in Rimouski.
We are present everywhere, and we are working in cooperation with the Quebec government. The problem is not that we are not doing anything, but that the hon. member refuses to recognize what we are doing, because what we are doing is so good that it goes against the objective of his party, which is to demonstrate that federalism does not work. Federalism does work. We are cooperating with the provinces in general and with Quebec in particular. The provinces get along very well with us. There is very good cooperation. The effects of our work in the field are being felt. Municipalities are supporting us, as are CFDCs, BDCs, CEDCs and the mayors of municipalities.
The hon. member made a speech that has nothing to do with the reality. This is totally unacceptable. How can we put a question to people who did not read the first line of a constitution that they condemn? This does not make any sense at all.
Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague opposite to tell us if he would have preferred to see us refuse to help Avionnerie Val-d'Or. It is in his riding. If he did not want us to help Avionnerie Val-d'Or, I would have liked to know.
However, that is not the issue. On a serious note, I would like to talk about the issues that are regularly addressed on the other side, the duplication issues. There is a very specific and simple example. About twenty years ago now, in its effort to deal with the regional disparity problems, the federal government created the CFDCs, the Community Futures Development Corporations.
These corporations work with local organizations to launch initiatives that create jobs in the surrounding environment, based on a strategy which is developed with local groups.
Several years later, the Quebec government, which was then separatist, decided that CFDCs were working well. They work well, but there is only one problem: they are federal. Imagine. A federal body present in the community and it works well. Of course, this is unacceptable. Local development centres, or LDCs, are therefore created, along the same lines as the CFDCs, with the same mandate as the CFDCs. The LDCs, by the way, are an initiative which, in and of itself, is laudable, in my view. The problem, however, is that the LDCs must not have any trace of the federal government. There is no way there can be anything federal about them. There was a federal institution, the CFDCs. There are a total of 57 of them across the province. The LDCs have been created so that the federal government is not there.
Then, who produced an overlap? Who initiated that overlap?
Contrary to what my colleagues opposite think, there is delight, all over Quebec, at the collaboration and the complementarity that can exist between a provincial action and the federal government for the benefit of communities. I wish the member opposite and his colleagues had been on hand when we announced the Sural project in Cap-Chat, in the struggling Gaspé region. We brought hope. Indeed, along with my colleague Nathalie Normandeau, of the Quebec government, with our own institution, with local people, building on a local initiative, we created hope.
Mr. Speaker, hope for the future is much more important than the battles of the past being waged by the people opposite.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House today to speak on this bill concerning the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.
It is our government's objective to ensure the success of Canadians in each and every region of our country. Its intention is to support our fellow citizens, as far as is possible, in the realization of their aspirations for prosperity and an enhanced quality of life.
This is the context within which the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec fulfills its mandate to promote the economic development of the regions of Quebec. To that end, it pays special attention to all the regions of Quebec, especially those with a slower growth rate and insufficient jobs for the size of their population.
In my capacity as the member of Parliament for Brome—Missisquoi, I can say that I have had the opportunity to see for myself the work done by the agency to ensure the regional economic development of Quebec and improve the quality of life of our fellow citizens.
For instance, the agency has made the financial commitment to provide over $1.02 billion for 2,116 projects during 2003-04. When investments from other funding bodies are factored in, the total value of these projects represents an injection of over $3.9 billion into the economy of the various regions of Quebec.
What is more, these projects have contributed to the creation, conversion or maintenance of more than 13,700 jobs in all the regions of Quebec.
In regions like Chaudière-Appalaches, Canada Economic Development supported Soliroc Metal with a contribution of $60,000 to enhance its productivity. With this financial assistance, the company was able to acquire more efficient equipment and, as a result, to increase its productivity by 60%.
This is one example of the kind of projects supported by Canada Economic Development which have highly positive economic spinoffs for the competitive position of a company, thereby enabling it not only to continue to grow, but also to play a vital role within its community.
In the Quebec City area, the National Optics Institute received a $3.6 million contribution from Canada Economic Development to implement a research program in agrophotonics. The purpose of this research campaign is to bring together two major areas of activity in the region, namely agro-processing and optics-photonics technologies.
Economic Development Canada has supported this regional initiative because it has just consolidated the institute's position of leadership in its sector and paved the way for various promising economic development projects in many regions of Quebec.
In the Lower St. Lawrence region, a marine biotechnology research centre was set up with a contribution of $7.6 million from Canada Economic Development. To carry out its work, the centre plans to create 24 direct jobs and 75 spin-off jobs. In addition, the centre's activities will bring top researchers to the region as well as new companies.
I can talk about this because I was there when it was announced. Contrary to what our colleague said, the entire population, the municipal councillors, and every living thing in the region was very happy to hear this news. I congratulate them. It is completely extraordinary. This is an example of Canada Economic Development playing its proper role.
I should add that these research facilities are a priority for the people of the Lower St. Lawrence region. That is why Canada Economic Development wanted to be involved in carrying out this project as part of its commitment to support initiatives that best respond to the needs of the public and that build on a region's strengths. In turn, such projects help fulfil economic development opportunities in the regions that welcome them and elsewhere in Quebec.
These examples are representative of what Economic Development Canada does. They also show how important promotion and innovation throughout Quebec is to the agency. This priority stems from our government's commitment to building the robust and innovative economy that we all want for our country in the 21st century.
In addition, the projects I mentioned illustrate Economic Development Canada's goal, which is to strengthen the niches of excellence specific to each region of Quebec.
In all, in 2003-04, the agency invested $54.6 million in 739 innovative projects in Quebec. These investments have led to the creation, transformation or retention of 4,796 jobs. Furthermore, even the promoters have said that, without the financial support of Economic Development Canada, 55% of the projects would never have materialized.
In order to promote innovation in the regions of Quebec, Economic Development Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada made a $3.6 million contribution to the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue for a major research project to develop a new type of beef that meets consumers’ increased requirements.
Once again, this project stems from the desire of researchers and cattle producers in the region. In addition to consolidating 34 jobs, this initiative should result in a 15% to 20% increase in profits for these industries.
As I mentioned earlier, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec also supports communities in their efforts to take charge of their development by investing in their assets.
The agency tries to help public interest projects that are likely to have a major general impact and to generate significant training effects on the region's economic activities.
The agency is cooperating with a network of stakeholders and, as the minister pointed out earlier, that network is made up of 57 community futures development corporations, CFDCs, 15 community economic development corporations and nine business development centres, or BDCs.
For the 2002-03 fiscal year, the various projects that benefited from a loan by CFDCs generated investments of $135 million in the regions. The value of the loans provided amounted to some $45 million. As for the nine BDCs, they got involved in 222 investment projects and 570 technical assistance initiatives.
I think that there is definitely no need to demonstrate the usefulness of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec. But we must do even more.
It is through the partnership between Economic Development Canada and the CFDCs network that the AFER the Aide aux femmes entrepreneures en milieu rural program was implemented. The purpose of this pilot project was to set up a financial assistance fund to stimulate female entrepreneurship in rural areas. I do hope that our friends from the Bloc Québécois have nothing against female entrepreneurship in rural areas.
The 12 CFDCs that are participating in this initiative represent the regions of Gaspé—Magdalen Islands, Lower St. Lawrence, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, North Shore, Saguenay, Mauricie, Chaudière-Appalaches and Montérégie. To this day, the AFER program has helped 93 women entrepreneurs; 31 businesses were established and 60 jobs were created in various regions of Quebec.
The Fonds AFER Canada is consistent with the Government of Canada's desire to encourage more women in all regions of Quebec to participate in the economy of their communities, as well as the efforts being made to diversify development opportunities in our communities.
As I indicated, Canada Economic Development is involved in all regions of Quebec.
For example, the agency promoted the Entreprises rurales Nord-du-Québec initiative. Under this project, Canada Economic Development gives $50,000 annually to the Chapais-Chibougamau, Matagami and Eeyou Economic Group CFDCs to help them sustain activities that they could not have financed within their mandate.
The CFDCs were able to support eight new business projects in the past six months or so and, thanks to this funding, many local business people will be able to enlarge their market share and increase their revenues. In other words, they will create wealth in their region, and their fellow citizens will benefit.
I would also like to remind the hon. members that the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec also helps Quebec's municipalities renew their infrastructure.
Requests are coming from every community, from mayors, municipal councillors, the RCMs, everyone. It will become obvious, because a new proposal concerning fuel will soon be put forward. There is a slew of programs that already meet or will meet the needs of local communities.
The purpose of this part of the agency's mandate is to help Quebec's communities to maintain their capacity to attract businesses, and to improve their citizens' quality of life.
Through the Canada-Quebec Infrastructure Works program, the management of which was entrusted to Canada Economic Development, the Government of Canada contributed a total amount of $463 million to the realization of 867 projects, from the beginning of the program in 2000 to March 31, 2004.
Thanks to all these different projects, 484,000 Canadian households already have or will have access to municipal waterworks providing better quality drinking water. In addition, some 6,000 households will be hooked up to a proper municipal sewer and wastewater treatment system. And 260 communities will benefit from the construction or improvement of sports or cultural facilities.
I repeat it, all the mayors of our regions of Quebec, the elected representatives and the councillors are all demanding these infrastructure funds. In my own riding, Brome—Missisquoi, the Au Brochet river runs into Lake Champlain. There are water quality problems in Lake Champlain. In summer, water is contaminated. There are still seven or eight municipalities that do not provide sewage water treatment. The sewage water flows into the river and the river into the lake. This reaches a point where the quality of the water in Lake Champlain is not always at its best.
Therefore, it is important to have an infrastructure program. By the way, an infrastructure program is based on partnership and cooperation between the three levels of government, that is the local or municipal, provincial and federal governments. This is commendable. These examples of cooperation should not be criticized but rather praised.
It is important to go forward and help the seven municipalities that are still discharging raw sewage in the river so that the water flowing in that river and into Lake Champlain will be as clean as possible. Communities often have a hard time, and if they had to fend for themselves, they would be unable to make improvements to preserve the environment. That is why it is important to have such a program which is financed equally by the federal government, the Quebec government and municipalities.
Here is another example. Not far from here, the municipality of Cantley, which is in the Outaouais area, received $332,000 in federal-provincial funds for a road infrastructure project, repairing the Sainte-Élizabeth road. This project will both improve the public infrastructure and the quality of life of citizens, and promote this area's full regional economic development potential.
In the Lanaudière region, the municipality of Repentigny, and I recognize the hon. member for Repentigny, received a federal-provincial contribution of $7.2 million for four projects to improve water and sewage systems. A total of 1,400 people will benefit directly from better utilities, which will improve their quality of life. I am sure the hon. member for Repentigny is in complete agreement with this kind of initiative, partnership and cooperation between the municipal, federal and provincial governments.
During the last few years, the Canadian government has often stated its commitment to build a strong Canadian economy for the 21st century, an economy that creates quality jobs and equal opportunities for all individuals and regions in Canada.
The Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec accepts fully this goal, as the bill before us shows. The agency also plays an active role in the implementation of the broad economic priorities of the government in the whole province of Quebec, and its many good results speak for it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill , the purpose of which is, in principle—and I believe with good intention—the development and diversification of the economy of the regions of Quebec.
When we speak of economic diversification, this is of course an integral part of the development of our regional communities. The riding of Mégantic—L'Érable is no exception. Its three regions, Amiante, Érable and Granit, can easily become designated areas because of their particular circumstances: industry closures and unemployment.
Let us take the example of my riding and its three regions. It is unfortunate that the minister has just left as he could perhaps have given answers to these questions.
In the Érable region, there is one extremely important resource: maple syrup, hence its name. This is an exceptional product, but there is a problem with it: excess production. People involved in processing it have to slow down production. There are problems in the entire agricultural sector. Here is the question: can these problems be solved by the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec?
We think the answer is no. It is the same thing for the Amiante region, as the minister is well aware. A mine will be closing down this weekend, and 455 workers will be losing their jobs for good. I wonder how much the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec has intervened, and how much it can do.
So problems like these will make this an inefficient agency, because as has been said, as my colleague has already said, you have--
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Marc Boulianne: Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member who is disturbing me a great deal might be called to order.
Right from the start, there is something lacking in the agency mandate, since it is stated that it will be implementing an integrated federal strategy. We know very well, regardless of what the minister may say, that Ottawa is not in a position to put that strategy in place, because the majority of files and issues do not fall under its jurisdiction.
Regardless of what they are saying, the Constitution states that powers may be given to the provinces and to Quebec. There is mention of natural resources, education, training, municipalities, infrastructure.
When we look at and read this text more carefully, when it comes to cooperative relations with Quebec, business circles, unions, any other private or public agencies that have to be directed or coordinated, the condition should be that the federal government respect Quebec's jurisdictions, and especially the fact that the Government of Quebec is the only interlocutor in these cases. It cannot be said enough. We cannot explain it enough. The members of the Bloc will repeat it over and over again. The Government of Quebec has to be the only one in charge in most of the areas covered in Bill C-9.
In all of these cases there has to be—this is important and was mentioned earlier—an agreement with the Government of Quebec to ensure that it has the right to opt out with full compensation. Nothing will be effective or work properly. The economy will keep slowing down if the agreements do not include the right to opt out with full compensation. As far as that goes, Quebec is far from obtaining this mandate, especially when we listen to the responses of ministers such as the Minister of Social Development on the issue of child care. He keeps avoiding questions by giving somewhat vague answers.
If we look carefully at this bill, the government's intention is clear: to politicize the development of our regions using an across the board approach. Quite a lot of work needs to be done, what with the sponsorship scandal, the firearms registry and so forth. This particular approach needs to be properly orchestrated: announcements, visibility, in order to have input. As for federal minister intervention in the selection of projects, it is the minister who decides. He will select the project. He will organize everything and avoid inviting the member responsible. He will make an announcement. He will be seen. It is a way of preparing his election campaign. That is this government's only intention with this bill, nothing else. Development is secondary.
The minister said so himself earlier. He said that economic development was not among Quebec's jurisdictions; that Quebec had no business in it. We know. Historically, it goes back to the British North America Act. When the powers were divided, in sections 91 and 92, all the important powers were given to the federal government and the rest of the minor powers went to Quebec.
At least that is what people say. It cannot work and it will never work. The minister confirmed it just now. He said that in the confederation documents, Quebec had no powers. But of course, as we all know very well, it is not a confederation, but a centralized and centralizing federal system.
Thus, ministers intervene in the selection of projects. They make themselves look good. They launch multiple operations to enhance visibility. And there, too, they have a whole process for announcements. Just now he gave a whole series. That is standard; considering how much we contribute as income tax to the federal government, some of it has to come back to us.
And they have added the whole business of handing out flags and sponsorships, and what next? That is certainly in the works for the next election campaign.
This interest in regional economic development has come on rather suddenly. If Ottawa is sincerely interested in the remote regions of Quebec, it can do two things.
First, it can transfer the money allocated to economic development directly to Quebec. As we mentioned, that is about $450 million. Quebec will use it in its own way, because it already has a regional economic development policy. For example, it will be aware of the problems in the riding of Mégantic—L'Érable which include softwood lumber, mad cow, maple syrup and asbestos. I repeat once more that at the end of the week, a mine is going to close. Quebec will know how to use this money for effective regional development. That is the first thing.
Second, I think that the government should begin by targeting activity sectors that will produce concrete results. Let it start in its own back yard. Let it put its house in order and work with its own powers and institutions.
First, for example, and I repeat, the government will respect Quebec's jurisdiction. The responsibility for orchestrating the activities that are fundamental to regional development belongs to Quebec. The government cannot do regional development. It is not written in the Constitution, except that it is impossible to do it in an integrated way without dealing with Quebec on education, health and municipalities.
Second, we talked earlier about the CFDCs. The government should begin by respecting local consultation and development organizations. We are talking about the CFDCs or the economic development corporations. It should not just barge in and impose itself as usual.
Then, there is a marked weakness in the area of capital assets. In this respect, the government has to bring federal spending to an acceptable level. It is not necessary to create an agency or to duplicate any service to achieve that. It can be done with existing resources.
We also made comparisons. We are a federation. There are 10 provinces, and we have to ensure a certain level of fairness. The regional budget must be the same in Quebec as it is in the Maritimes. The situation has never been fair in the area of regional development budgets.
I could mention numerous issues that the government should target before creating a new agency. The last one is an EI reform that would meet regional needs. This is how we can ensure development.
I was talking about the budget earlier. In relative terms, the federal government is investing three times less in regional development in Quebec than in the Maritimes. We have seen that. We have statistics. The four maritime provinces receive $164 per capita while Quebec only gets $51, or one-third. For the unemployed, the difference is $2,700 to $1,037.
This problem existed elsewhere too. It existed in the Prairies, in western Canada in general. They have had to face the same kind of underfunding problem that Quebec is facing now. But when Ontario or the Maritimes complain, the federal government usually sits down and listens to what the provinces have to say. However, when Quebec wants something, it is never taken seriously.
The problem was resolved. The situation in the Maritimes was corrected in part with the last federal budget. Ottawa increased by 32% its support to regional development in the Prairies, in the west, as compared to only 7% in Quebec. Injustice remains. Nothing can justify the effort made for the Gaspé being one third that made for New Brunswick.
Instead of establishing a new department, creating, as I said earlier, a new bureaucracy, duplication and a new way of making itself visible, the federal government should have transferred to Quebec financial support proportionally comparable to the support provided to every other province. That is the first point.
As for the employment insurance reform, much has been said about it and more could be said. The regions have been particularly hard hit by the cuts to employment insurance. Tens of thousands of dollars in cuts were made. In my riding, which encompasses three regions, including L'Érable and Le Granit, considerable losses have also been recorded in the asbestos industry.
We are talking about regional development. Meaningless figures and statistics are being tossed around. Those most affected by these cuts are young people, workers whose employment status is precarious and seasonal workers. Their situation is being overlooked, and they are being ignored.
The cuts have been particularly painful to seasonal workers, as they have difficulty working enough hours to qualify for benefits. When they do qualify, the number of benefit weeks is insufficient to carry them over until the next work season. This was mentioned earlier. They are left with no income. But that does not matter. What matters is the government's visibility in preparation for an upcoming election. That is what matters.
When these workers finally receive benefits, they are penalized by the benefit schedule. As a result, the cuts have amplified the already serious problem posed by youth exodus. Efforts were being made to find ways to get them to stay. But the minister tells us that the powers of Canada Economic Development do not extend to our regions.
The problem of seasonal jobs has grown bigger and bigger. The government should help young people and families out of the poverty it has forced them into.
Let me conclude with this. The Bloc Québécois position is quite clear. We oppose Bill C-9 because it is of no use for regions in Quebec. They can say all they want, the responsibilities of the Economic Development Agency will remain the same. Programs and budgets are unchanged. Why should we support an agency or a piece of legislation that is useless?
Second, the Senate has just established a federal department of regional development. That is just more duplication. Like my colleague said earlier, the minister has listed everything he had done in the department he is now responsible for, and the new department will go further. This is a real federal department of regional development in Quebec that will be duplicated.
As a matter of fact, regions need an integrated development strategy. We all agree on this. But only Quebec is in a position to implement this strategy. Despite every thing that can be said, constitutional texts and traditions grant Quebec some powers in the area of development. Any strategy that can be implemented by Quebec must include many different things like natural resources, education, training, and municipalities. None of this is under federal jurisdiction.
Right now, neither Quebec nor Ottawa are investing enough money in regional development. We are still looking for a full-fledged government.
For all these reasons, we will vote against this bill.