Mr. Speaker, Bill is an interesting bill. Ostensibly, it sets out to address a gender wage gap in cabinet by doing two things: changing or limiting the current title of “minister of state” to “minister”, and then paying all ministers the same salary. It would also create three new placeholder cabinet positions to be filled and defined at the pleasure of the Prime Minister.
This bill would also remove the heads of regional economic development agencies from the Salaries Act, which means that while ministers could still be the head of regional development agencies, the head of such agencies would not necessarily be styled as ministers.
At first blush, this bill seems innocuous and maybe laudable. However, upon closer examination, this bill raises some important questions, which New Democrats hope the government will be able to answer. The first question is why the bill is necessary.
There are currently two levels or tiers of ministers. Full regular ministers are heads of their respective departments. Here I refer to the , the , and , etc., all of whom happen to be men. Then there is a second tier of ministers, previously called “ministers of state”, who have the title of minister, but their responsibilities are unchanged. We have the ; the ; and , all of whom happen to be women.
While ; the ; and are all important, these ministries have historically not been accorded the same status, level of responsibility, or scope of mandate as the ministries of finance, defence, and immigration. In fact, the minister of state designation has been seen largely as a post of a more junior minister.
I would like to share with my colleagues one definition. A minister of state is a more junior cabinet minister in the Canadian cabinet and is usually given specific responsibilities to a senior cabinet minister in a specific area. While it is a noble goal to achieve gender parity in cabinet, as it is in all things, the way that this is done also has to be fair, equitable, defendable, and transparent.
When the newly minted cabinet was sworn in last year, it was heralded and greeted with much enthusiasm. There were lots of congratulations to go around, but then a news story revealed that of the 15 men and 15 women in the new cabinet, five of the women and none of the men were assigned to be ministers of state. Those five ministers are the , who reports to the ; the , who also reports to the ; the , who works under the ; the , who also works under the ; and the , who supports the .
A senior government spokesperson clarified that these ministers of state were already considered full ministers and that all that remained was for the government to change the Treasury Board statute to reflect this new development. However, she also stated:
...making these five women full ministers does not mean their portfolios will take on the size of full departments. They are serviced by other departments in the same way they always have been, but they have the full standing and authority of any other minister around the table.
I believe that cabinet should reflect our society and that having 50% of it consisting of women ministers is great. However, if five of those women ministers are, in effect, junior ministers appointed to assist full ministers, then is there really truly a cabinet of equals? Three of the five junior ministers would be assisting their male ministers.
This bill then aims to bump up the salaries of these junior ministers to the same level as full ministers' salaries, despite these ministers not having a full ministry or department to oversee, nor the scope of responsibilities. Therefore, is this fair? Is it equitable to have equal pay for unequal work, scope, and responsibility? Is this a case of pay equity or is this bill just a way for the government to make good on its claim of gender parity in cabinet?
This is not to say that paying women more and fairly is a bad thing. In fact, the NDP has been fighting for pay equity for decades. Canadian women have been fighting for, and waiting for, pay equity for a very long time.
Pay equity, as my colleagues know, was established as a fundamental human right in 1977. Since then, working women in Canada have had unequal access to fair pay.
Some provincial jurisdictions have established pay equity commissions, and the women in those jurisdictions are enjoying a modicum of equality with their male colleagues when it comes to equal pay for work of equal value. I am sad to say, however, that too many working women are still waiting on this day.
On Wednesday, the government tabled its response to the report of the Special Committee on Pay Equity, announcing that it recognized that pay equity is a human right. In fact, the report of the committee was entitled, “It's Time to Act”. Unfortunately, the government clearly does not believe it is time to act. Instead, it announced that notwithstanding the fact pay equity is a human right, Canadian women would have to wait another two years before the government introduces legislation, let alone implements it.
I had the privilege of serving on that special committee, and I can tell members that expert witnesses testified there was no reason to wait. There was broad consensus among all witnesses that pay equity is a human right and should not be subject to collective bargaining. There was also consensus the current complaint-based system is not accessible to everyone, but costly and time-consuming for those who do have access, and that it is effectively denying fairness and justice through the delays that can stretch for decades. As people know, some women have died before being able to get their pay equity settlement.
Canadian women have been waiting too long for the right to pay equity to be realized, and there should not be any more delays. We need proactive pay equity legislation to achieve pay equity legislation, and the 2004 task force report provides an excellent template for that legislation.
Some of my colleagues in the House will remember that the 2004 task force on pay equity conducted an extensive review of this issue and that its report has been recognized internationally as one of the most comprehensive and authoritative works on pay equity ever done. The task force consulted widely and produced a list of recommendations that is still relevant and valid.
In 2005, the Standing Committee for the Status of Women studied this report and asked the Liberal government of the day to introduce legislation immediately. Unfortunately, that did not happen and, regrettably, the current government has also decided to punt the issue ahead.
I cannot fully express my profound disappointment with the cynicism that the current government and its ministers have shown in their response to the committee report. Asking Canadian women to wait another two years is unconscionable, and its commitment to bring in legislation in 2018 just prior to an election is a shameful ploy to hold the rights of working women ransom. It is like saying “Yes, we acknowledge that you have a right to equal pay for work of equal value and it has been neglected, and although we have the power to fix this injustice right away, we won't. We will make lofty claims about being a feminist government and promise to bring in legislation in a couple of years, just in time for you to vote us in again so we can actually do what we should and could have done right now”.
The government is asking women to endure two more years of being paid approximately 70¢ of every dollar that their male counterparts earn. That is 30% less buying power for women to spend in the economy. It is 30% less to pay for rent, food, child care, education, and to invest in their pensions. It is even worse for women who are from indigenous or racialized communities, and those living with disabilities. This inequality contributes to a much lower standard of living for women, and its effects are brought forward to the next generation.
As Kate McInturff, one of the learned witnesses who appeared before the committee, testified:
Today in Canada our daughters are as likely to attend university as our sons are, but we are in danger of failing to deliver on the promise of education, because those girls will grow up and graduate to a pay gap—unless we act now. Karma doesn't cut it. Doing nothing, leaving pay to the forces of the market, gives us what we have today, a widening gap between men's and women's rates of pay. Let me repeat that: the gap in men's and women's full-time wages is growing right now in Canada, not shrinking.
I asked Dr. McInturff if she agreed that pay equity legislation is an important step in eliminating the gender wage gap, that we should not have to wait to get everything right, and that we could actually start to have an impact on women's lives if we had, at the very least, federal pay equity legislation. This was her response:
Well, yes, clearly I think we need to act sooner rather than later.
....But, really, when we're talking about a life-threatening impact, we have to think about the women who make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. A pay gap for a retail worker who is making $12,000 to $13,000 a year, can really mean the difference between food and rent or not. That's why I would urge the committee to act on this, because addressing it has a really substantial impact on the quality of life of the lowest-earning women in the country.
When we consider Bill , which will add $20,000 to the salaries of some of the highest-earning women in Canada, I really need to wonder about the priorities of the government. The bill would adjust the wages, and put it into the act, of five of the most well-paid women in Canada. The legislation was drawn up very quickly and brought to the House so we could pass it. However, millions of working women in Canada who earn far less are being told they have to wait for their wages to be adjusted. Where is the fairness?
Bill appears to be a cosmetic fix for a problem created by the . Claims of a truly gender-equal cabinet were trumpeted far and wide, but when it was pointed out that some of the women, and only women, who made up this gender-balanced cabinet were actually junior ministers, being paid at a junior minister's salary level, the government had to do some damage control, and this bill is the result.
The bill, unfortunately, ignores the clear difference in responsibility conferred on women in the 's cabinet. If the Prime Minister truly believes in and wants to equalize the status of government ministers, as the bill purports to do, then all he needs to do is appoint an equal number of men and women as full ministers and an equal number of men and women as ministers of state. It seems simple enough. There is no need to mess with salary levels or artificially inflate the salaries of junior ministers to elevate them to the status of full ministers.
Interestingly, though, all five ministers of state who will see a $20,000 raise with the passage of the bill are women. It would almost seem as though the junior minister positions were not good enough for men.
However, the Liberal approach to fixing a problem of their own making is counterproductive, because it ignores the principles of pay equity: equal pay for work of equal value, and equal opportunity to perform roles with greater responsibilities.
Real gender parity in cabinet means appointing an equal number of women to be department heads or full ministers. By papering over the distinction between ministers of state and full ministers, the is prioritizing the equality of compensation over the equality of responsibility with respect to gender parity in his government.
I would respectfully submit that observing the principles of pay equality and equal opportunity is the appropriate way to eliminate the gender pay gap that currently exists in cabinet.
The second area of concern is the removal of the heads of the regional economic development agencies from the Salaries Act. This means that while different ministers could still be heads of the various agencies, no one could be a minister simply by virtue of being a head of a regional economic development agency. Again, it sounds innocuous, but what this really amounts to is the neutering of these agencies.
Canadians value the contributions of these agencies to their economic development, and these regions are best served by having someone with local expertise at the helm of their respective agencies. Bill would diminish the role of the regional economic development ministers around the cabinet table, and at present rolls them up under the purview of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. How does it make sense that six diverse economic development portfolios, representing six different geographical regions, be grouped under one minister?
When one visits the Government of Canada's website for regional development agencies across Canada, this is what it states:
Regional Development Agencies across Canada help to address key economic challenges by providing regionally-tailored programs, services, knowledge and expertise that:
•Build on regional and local economic assets and strengths;
•Support business growth, productivity and innovation;
•Help small- and medium-sized businesses effectively compete in the global marketplace;
•Provide adjustment assistance in response to economic downturns and crises; and
Each Regional Development Agency brings a regional policy perspective in support of the national agenda through: regional economic intelligence to support national decision-making; contributing to federal regional coordination and cooperative relationships with other levels of government, community and research institutions, and other stakeholders; and supporting national priorities in regions.
Getting rid of regional oversight and autonomy of these economic development agencies is another example of top-down government. However, perhaps it is just another step toward placing these agencies on the chopping block. In the past, the agencies had full-time ministers or ministers of state, or the portfolio was attached to a specific minister from the region who carried other cabinet responsibilities.
Federal agencies directly deliver and administer hundreds of millions of dollars to help spur on regional economic development. For example, ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which was the first agency created by the federal government, had a budget last year of $298.6 million. Its former president has publicly mused that “the future of these agencies could be in peril without having permanent ministers advocating on their behalf”. He also said, “This is going to be low-hanging fruit. It is a lot tougher to abolish an agency that has a minister, particularly if that is the minister's only job, than it is to abolish an agency that is essentially an agency of public servants.”
I wonder what the real intent is for regional development agencies. Would it be helpful for members, as well as the people in those regions, to learn what the government's plan is for the future of economic development in their areas?
Finally, the third area of concern I have is that Bill gives the prime minister the ability to add three new or additional ministers at his discretion, without giving us an idea of what those positions might be or who might occupy them. It seems like another example of the government, despite its promises of transparency and open government, setting up another avenue to do just what it wants without proper, or any, oversight. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I invite the government to tell the House exactly what these positions would be. Members could then make an informed decision.
In summary, Bill C-24 presents more questions than answers. I hope the government will see fit to be more forthcoming in the days to come about the details and the intended consequences of the bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to continue the debate on Bill .
This is a particularly curious approach we have from the government. I wish I could say an unusual approach from the government, but certainly still a curious one.
Here we are on Friday afternoon, a time when I think many members of the government think MPs should actually not be working, debating a salary increase for government ministers. The Liberals have proposed a bill that would increase the salary for some members of the cabinet. I am sure they were thinking about how they could justify their desire to get paid more. To justify that, they said it was about gender equality. This is an argument that does a great disservice to the real issues of gender equality in this country. The legislation is very clear in terms of what it says and does. It is about increasing the salary for particular positions within the cabinet.
It is unfortunate. I will say this, having had the opportunity to sub on the status of women committee a couple of times in the last two weeks, I have seen the important work that the committee does, and indeed the very real issues we have in this country around status of women and around gender equality. This is not an argument that should be misused when what is actually going on is people trying to pursue their own political individual interests, which are not at all related to substantive issues of equality.
We see this strategy in fact frequently from the Liberals. They invoke the position of disadvantaged groups when actually they are trying to do something that is entirely, transparently, about their own interests. It comes at a time when I think many Canadians are losing their jobs, especially in my province of Alberta, at a time when it is hard to justify people who are already doing well, government ministers, getting the pay increase that is proposed by this piece of legislation, Bill .
That is the context here. We have the legislation coming forward, a pay increase for ministers, and I think it is designed in a way that plays this unfortunate game of sleight of hand.
Already we have had one speech from the government, but already the Liberals have foregone a speaking slot, so I am concerned that not only is the legislation being argued for in a misleading and an incorrect way, but many government members do not even have the heart to stand up and defend it.
For those who are watching, let me shape the conversation a little by describing the context in which the bill occurs. Members of the House, as members of Parliament, receive a base salary, but there are a number of different positions where there is an additional salary component that reflects additional responsibilities that members have. They include you, Mr. Speaker, and they include, of course, the at the highest level.
Ministers get a certain salary top-up and ministers of state are at a different level. Just to explain the difference, there is an important substantive distinction in our system between the functions of ministers and the functions of ministers of state. Although generally speaking, they are all thought of as being members of the cabinet, they all take the associated oath, they are all given the honorific, “the honourable”, and they are at that level of being in the Privy Council, they have distinctly different functions.
A full minister within our system of Westminster government is responsible for a whole department, whereas a minister of state has specific areas of responsibility but their function is to assist the minister who is responsible for administering the department. Very clearly, we have two different kinds of ministers. Yes, both are important. Yes, they both sit in cabinet and receive salary top-ups, but different kinds of salary top-ups.
Then we have that whole hierarchy working through the system. There is the , the cabinet ministers, and the ministers of state, and then parliamentary secretaries and committee chairs, who receive a salary top-up but not as much as what ministers of state get. Then there are other positions in the House that may include one or two people who then receive an additional top-up as well. If we look across the system, of course all members of Parliament are in some sense equal. However, for the purposes of our debate and deliberations here, we are not equal in terms of our level of authority or level of responsibility.
It goes without saying that there are some people here who have different kinds of administrative responsibilities within government. Therefore, they are paid at a different level because it reflects the additional role or responsibility they have.
Some of the members who have asked questions, or the original mover of this bill, people from the government side, have suggested that in the Liberal cabinet all ministers are equal. That may sound nice, but administratively it is nonsense. To suggest that every single department within the government is of equal importance to the lives of Canadians, that every minister has the same degree of administrative responsibility, that every department is as important as each other, without intending any disrespect, of course, to some of the departments, it is very clear that some do matter more.
To start with, most other ministers, for almost anything they would want to do, would have to ensure that they have the funding from the . Therefore, there is clearly some, both formal and informal hierarchy, that exists in any cabinet. That is most clearly evident in the distinctions that exist between ministers and ministers of state. I want to underline that this is very much still the case with the current cabinet.
I had the honour of working as a staffer in the previous government, so I have some understanding of how this works at the administrative level. However, the government cannot say its cabinet works differently. In fact, I have the orders in council from November 4 that effectively created the positions of ministers, and within the government there are five ministers of state. In each case, they are not called ministers of state. The Standing Orders said they were to be styled something else, in other words, the naming of the minister is something different. They clearly list not only the fact that the minister in question is a minister of state, but refer to the fact that their responsibilities are involved in assisting the full minister for each department.
That is how ministers of state work. They do not have their own departments. They have specific responsibilities, but the nature of those responsibilities is that they involve assisting the minister who does have full responsibility for that area. I will read directly from the orders in council. I cannot give the names of the ministers, but there are five.
It states, “a minister of state to be styled minister of la Francophonie, to assist the minister of foreign affairs in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”. Very clearly, in the order in council, the instruction is to assist the full in the carrying out of the minister's responsibility.
The next one says, “a minister of state to be styled minister of status of women, to assist the minister of Canadian heritage in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”. Very clearly, in the orders in council, it is not put at an equal level of the full cabinet, as I have explained.
Then we have, “a minister of state to be styled minister of sport and persons with disabilities, to assist the minister of Canadian heritage and the minister of employment and social development in the carrying out of those ministers' responsibilities”.
Next, “a minister of state to be styled minister of small business and tourism, to assist the minister of industry in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”.
Finally, “a minister of state to be styled minister of science, to assist the minister of industry in the carrying out of that minister's responsibilities”.
This is from the current cabinet on November 4. After the election, there was the appointment of these five ministers of state, who are styled or labelled, not as ministers of state, but very clearly, according to the orders in council, are ministers of state, and in fact functioning at a different level from the full ministers. It is clearly indicated within the orders in council which minister they are responsible to report to, in one case to the , in another case to the , the , and then in two cases to the .
It could not be clearer that we still have what we have always had, and perhaps always will have in our system, which is different levels of ministers. However, I will say this, as well, to the government. If the government were really committed to equalizing the salaries of ministers, why did they not lower the salaries of the full ministers to the level of ministers of state, or at least find some level in between?
I see members across the way shaking their heads. It is, of course, outrageous that we would consider lowering the salaries of ministers of the government, and I am not proposing that. I am just saying that if the intention of the government was equalization, it is interesting that the route they are following is that it has to give everyone an increase.
I worry that the parliamentary secretaries are soon going to speak up and say “Aren't we equal too? Shouldn't we be at the same level as the ministers?”
This is precisely the problem. We are talking about different levels of work, but premised on this entirely false notion of equality that seeks to equalize the pay for positions that are, in fact, clearly different, that clearly involve different levels of responsibility.
While this provides the government with a great opportunity to, yes, on a Friday afternoon, propose and defend legislation, or if the Liberals continue their current track record of not putting forward speakers, not to defend legislation, designed to increase the amount of money that cabinet ministers are earning.
Again, I come back to what the government's defence is of this rather absurd approach that it is taking. The Liberals are trying to make this about gender. Again, this does a great disservice to the very real issues of gender equality in this country that require urgent action. Instead, their focus is on increasing the pay of some cabinet ministers and making it about, supposedly, a gender issue. Here are the facts when it comes to gender in the current cabinet.
When the appointed his cabinet, we heard about his much-promoted commitment to gender parity. At the time of appointment, there were 15 women in cabinet and 16 men, including the . Now, that is not parity to begin with, 15 women and 16 men, because the Prime Minister himself is very much a member of cabinet. He has additional seniority and responsibilities, obviously, but he sits as part of the cabinet. Therefore, from the start we already did not have gender parity within the cabinet.
However, we found out, and it is clear from the order in council, that there were ministers of state, as there always has been, five of which were women. Now, the cabinet was not appointed by anyone other than the . Presumably, he knew what he was doing. He knew not only that he was creating a cabinet that did not have equality among the 31 ministers, but also that five of the ministers in that cabinet would be appointed to a different tier. He should have known clearly what the difference was in the nature of those positions and their functions.
In terms of the full ministers, not ministers of state, the original Liberal cabinet had 16 men and 10 women, which means that 38% of the full cabinet were women. Now, 38% of the current cabinet are women versus 30% at the end of the last Conservative government. That is an increase, but it certainly does not deserve the claim of gender parity, as was much asserted by the and other members of his team.
Of course, the government was criticized for the disconnect between what its members were saying on the one hand, and what they were doing on the other. This has been a common criticism of the current government: the disconnect between the things its members are saying and things they are doing. It is no clearer than in this particular case.
The Liberals said they would fix it by pretending that ministers of state were in fact full ministers, but that was a pretense. As I have explained very clearly, the orders in council, the structure of the way government works, is that ministers of state do not run departments, and their function is to assist the full minister responsible for those areas in carrying out their functions.
That would not change with the legislation before us. The fact that the legislation introduces a pay increase for those ministers does not at all change the fundamental reality of the way our system works. Even to the extent that they were trying to fix this problem, this disconnect between their claims of gender parity and the reality of their cabinet means they have not actually addressed it at all.
I suggest that there was a much clearer, simpler way for them to have done this. They could have shuffled their cabinet if they wanted to have that full equality, that actual parity. They could have appointed an equal number of male and female full ministers, and an equal number of male and female ministers of state. Again, no one else appoints the cabinet but the . It was his choice to claim gender parity, on the one hand, but to appoint all of the women within that cabinet to a clearly junior tier, on the other hand.
Renaming the ministers, calling them something else, and increasing their pay does not change the fact that they have lesser administrative responsibilities, that they still have to be reporting to another minister in the context of the carrying out of their duties. This is what we have. We have a salary increase bill for cabinet ministers dressed up in the name of equality.
I want to talk, then, about some other aspects of the bill in the remaining time that I have, because there is the issue, as well, of changing the way the regional ministers work and of changing the way in which regional economic development agencies are administered.
This formalizes a change of the government from the way things have worked in the past. Historically, and when I was a political staffer, the system we had was that there were regional ministers from each area who, in addition to being responsible for certain functions of government, had a particular responsibility for certain regions. They played an important role within the cabinet advocating for the perspective of their region. This was obviously important.
Despite the great intentions a person may have, it is difficult to fully understand and appreciate what the challenges are in, say, Alberta, if he or she does not live in, or come from, or have some kind of a personal connection to Alberta. That is a reality. It is no guarantee that someone from that region will actually represent the interests of their region, as we have seen from members opposite from Alberta voting against key energy infrastructure projects.
However, generally speaking, it is still important to have that kind of regional representation dimension and, also, for regional economic development agencies to have a minister from that region who is responsible for administering that economic development agency, someone who understands the realities of the circumstances and who has a real appreciation of what the economic development needs are. That regional representation, not only within the House of Commons but also within cabinet, and the formalization of that, not just through having the ministers from different regions but having ministers with specific regional responsibilities, which include economic development, has been part of our long history of trying to, through our institutions, structure things so that we are bringing our country together and ensuring that every part of this country has a clear voice at the table. That regional knowledge they bring in is of great importance.
Unfortunately, with these changes with the structure of the cabinet we have, that has been lost. As other members have pointed out many times, we have a minister who represents a constituency in Mississauga who is responsible for all of the economic development agencies across the country. I do not doubt that he is a capable person, but to expect one person to have a full appreciation of the economic development needs of all these different regions in which he does not live and does not represent, is incredibly unrealistic and it leaves those regions without effective representation at the cabinet table.
I think we see this in a number of different issues where the needs of Alberta are being ignored. The historical prerogatives of Atlantic Canada, in the context of Supreme Court representation, are being ignored. We see the outworkings of this lack of regional representation within the government.
Let me say, as well, that having that regional minister responsible for regional economic development plays an important accountability function. It means that people who have concerns, maybe, or suggestions with respect to the activity of regional economic development agencies, things that are very important to the regions in which they operate in terms of at least the way they are seen in those areas, can go to a regional minister who represents those agencies and have that conversation, push back, and hold the person accountable, perhaps, if the way he or she is proceeding is not seen as being in the interests of the region.
Without that function, the local administration really comes down to, not a minister but public servants. Public servants, of course, have a great deal of expertise, but they are not politically accountable in the same way that ministers are.
We are losing out on that regional dimension, as well, and that is unfortunate.
I am very opposed to the bill because, again, I do not see, in the current economic circumstances, especially, any justification for increasing ministerial salaries. The government is trying to get around a political problem of the 's own making by paying some people more.
Again, if he wanted to have gender parity in his cabinet, all he had to do was shuffle his cabinet. He has chosen not to do that but to instead put this window dressing on with a salary increase. That is not the right way to go. It costs Canadians too much. That is why I am opposing this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I have to say that my colleague just did an excellent job of giving us an accurate, fair, and very factual explanation of the bill. At no time during his speech did I detect a personal attack against the . On the contrary, he complimented the minister's work, but he expressed concern about how much time the minister would be able to devote to the development of each region of the country. That was his point. I heard no personal attack in his excellent speech. Once again, I too recognize my colleague's excellent qualities.
As everyone knows, we will vigorously and vehemently oppose the bill before us for a number of reasons. With this enigmatic bill, the government is asking us to approve the possible future appointment of three ministers, but it is silent on the whys and wherefores. We do not know where this comes from or what is behind this bill to create three new ministerial positions.
The Liberals should be transparent and tell Canadians which of their friends they are planning to appoint. We have heard a number of suggestions since this morning. After the bill was introduced, people suggested the government might be looking to create a minister of universal taxation, a minister of partisan appointments, or maybe a minister of servile deference responsible for not offending Iran, Russia, China, the United States, and other countries so that Canada can secure a UN Security Council seat. Nobody knows. Why do we not know? Why do members on this side of the House and Canadians even have to ask? What kind of ministers will we get? Why are we being kept guessing? Because the government lacks transparency.
The government is not saying why it wants to create these three ministerial positions. Perhaps it intends to create three positions for ministers of sunny ways so that it need not tackle the real problems in Canada's regions? We do not know, and that is my concern with the bill we are debating today. What do the Liberals have to hide? What is this government's secret agenda? Is our trying to use a bill to justify the potential appointment of three new ministers? Now that he has the legal basis for creating three new cabinet positions, why not go ahead and do it? Everything is possible, everything is on the table because we do not know what the government wants to do.
The one thing that struck me in particular about this bill is that it would eliminate the positions of minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada. I would like to tell my Liberal colleagues about the agency's role. It is not complicated, and all Canadians can find information about the role of the agency and its various regional agencies on its website. I suspect that my colleagues did not spend enough time reading up on the agency's role and that they actually do not know what it is.
I would like to raise a few points. Regional economic development agencies address key economic challenges by providing programs and services specific to the needs of the regions as well as the know-how to deal with crises. The agency seeks to help small and medium-sized businesses to be competitive in global markets, support growth, productivity, innovation, and especially to help them adapt to economic downturns and crises.
There is currently no regional minister, and where has that gotten us? No decisions have been made on the diafiltered milk issue because there is no one in cabinet to defend the rural regions. No one is standing up in cabinet to say that this issue needs to be resolved because jobs in Quebec are at stake.
With regard to the carbon tax, no minister stood up to defend the various regions of Quebec and especially Alberta. No one stood up for these regions, who need someone to help them with their issues from time to time. There is also the softwood lumber issue. Once again, we can see why the government needed a year to make a failed attempt at resolving the issue. The agreement expires in five days.
The softwood lumber agreement affects millions of jobs across Canada, but that does not seem to bother the government because no minister is in direct contact with the people in each of those regions to talk specifically about economic development.
Each minister in charge of a regional development agency had the mandate to bring a regional perspective to the development of national strategies. Absent a national strategy, however, there is no need for regional ministers. Perhaps that is a reason, but the government is still abandoning the regions of Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, as well as the Atlantic, western, and northern regions. The government is abandoning everyone and, once again, we have no idea why. What is this government's secret game plan? This enigmatic bill does not tell us anything.
Having served as the mayor of Thetford Mines for seven years, I had the opportunity to deal with the federal government on a few occasions. It was easy, because I was lucky enough to be represented by an excellent minister, Christian Paradis, whose role it was to support his riding, as it is the role of each and every one of us in the House.
When we had a problem, as members of the Union des municipalités du Québec, and we wanted to discuss it with federal government representatives, we did not have to hold 22 meetings. All we had to do was meet with the minister responsible for our region, who would then pass our message along to the government.
As mayor, one is, in a sense, the minister for everything, but there are times when the mayor cannot solve everything alone. If a mayor has to put 22 meetings on his agenda to resolve one single issue because there is no longer a minister who looks after the region, well, I really think the government is on the wrong track. We need regional development agencies.
Since the government does not have a national economic strategy, it does not need regional development agencies. However, the crises in our regions are real, and regional ministers need to deal with them.