Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hull—Aylmer.
I am very happy to rise again to reply to the budget. I thought a year ago it would be my last time to talk about the budget as the government was gearing up for an election campaign. It appears to still be gearing up for one, but just cannot seem to bring itself to get in the position where it actually will go to the people for a mandate.
For the past two decades, I have had the honour of representing the people of Egmont from the western quarter of Prince Edward Island. I have really enjoyed representing them and their views. It is a rural riding for the most part. Summerside takes in about half of the voting population of my riding. The rest is rural. I live in the rural part of Egmont in the little village of Tyne Valley.
I am proud to have represented this rural riding and to champion rural issues over the time I have spent in the House.
Our party has a tradition of investing in the economy of Atlantic Canada, something which I really do not see in the budget. When I was in the Atlantic caucus, we spearheaded a caucus initiative called, “Catching Tomorrow's Wave”, which resulted in the prime minister at the time, Mr. Chrétien, announcing the Atlantic investments partnership. That partnership was not only strengthened by the minister of finance at the time, the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, but when he became prime minister, he budgeted for that initiative for a further five years to the tune of $706 million.
We do not really seem to be seeing the results of the initiative, which began under the previous Liberal government. In fact, when we take out the R and D funds, the community funds, which were to offset the R and D, are non-existent. We have been unable to identify any project approvals in the innovative communities initiatives fund.
The money is there, but why is ACOA not approving projects throughout Atlantic Canada and helping to develop the economy? Its role is to help community and regional development. Because the majority of the ridings are represented by Liberal MPs, the government does not feel that the region should benefit with these investments. This is the great failing when Atlantic MPs do not champion the region, when they, for crass political purposes, neglect to invest dollars in industry and the economy of the region that needs it the most.
When we look through the budget we do not see the words Atlantic Canada. We see the Pacific region, the automotive industry, forestry, money and investments for almost every region such as the north, which is all great stuff. However, when it comes to the Atlantic, the Conservatives cannot seem to not only utter the name, they cannot seem to print the name Atlantic Canada.
We have an Atlantic gateway that people mumble about, but they never put any resources toward it. They talk about the Pacific gateway. We had a chance for the Commonwealth Games and we failed to get enough federal dollars invested. They do not seem to have any problem investing in the Olympics in Vancouver, but when it comes to the Commonwealth Games in Halifax, we do not seem to be in the ball game at all.
Another item I touched on in statements by members today was the network of centres of excellence. This program is jointly funded by a number of research councils and Industry Canada. The goal of the program is to develop Canada's economy in areas of health, energy and natural resources. It has developed a number of world-class centres that specialize in commercializing technologies in the 21st century. These technologies produce cutting edge solutions to some of the challenges faced by our society.
However, it becomes clear that the government is investing in these centres of excellence in all the regions of the country except Atlantic Canada. Of the past 18 centres of excellence that were approved and created by the government, only one was established in Atlantic Canada. How can a government that claims to care about the region defend a record such as that? It cannot. And it certainly cannot claim a lack of qualified proposals from the region.
In my home province is an organization that is a national leader in wind energy. We have seen federal governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, invest heavily in the energy sector in the oil sands in Alberta, but when it comes to investing in the wind energy sector, which is the only energy source in Prince Edward Island, we find the government very reticent toward putting a penny into developing that energy source.
The Wind Energy Institute of Canada, in North Cape, P.E.I., was the Atlantic wind test site for the past 30 years, a federal government initiative built on provincial property. This centre is a key component of the province of P.E.I.'s green energy strategy. Although we are not blessed with many energy resources and do not have the luxury of massive gas and oil reserves, we do have abundant wind energy and a great desire by the province--and by the federal government, when we were in power--to develop that particular industry. Developing and investing in this industry will allow our province to take a large step closer to self-sustainability.
This institute is a priority of the provincial government, as I said. The province realizes that investing in this institute will help P.E.I. increase its position as a global leader in wind energy and technology, with a focus on clean, renewable energy sources in both the industrialized and the developing worlds. The Wind Energy Institute of Canada represents a golden opportunity for P.E.I. to shine on the global stage.
However, does the Tory government want to be partner in this initiative? No, it does not. Does the Tory government share the enthusiasm of the P.E.I. government for the centre? No, it does not.
Does the Tory government want to help P.E.I. develop its globally recognized centre of wind energy and research? Apparently not. Does the Tory government want to help develop a centre of excellence for Atlantic Canada in wind energy? It has not to this point. Time is rapidly running out.
The numbers speak for themselves. Eleven new centres were announced last month, but not a single one for Atlantic Canada. This lack of faith in the potential of Atlantic Canada is not unique to Industry Canada. One only needs to examine the activity, or the lack thereof, of the Minister of ACOA to see that the government does not care about the region.
The government has cut funding to P.E.I. each year it has been in power. As I say, on the innovative community projects we see very little investment. The money is basically going back to general revenue.
We have heard from the Minister of ACOA, during the past election campaign and as recently as a few days ago, that ACOA funding was as solid as a rock in the north Atlantic, but that rock is eroding pretty fast. I do not think it is made of granite. The particular rock we are talking about is probably made of shale, like the ground of Prince Edward Island.
However, the government continues to cut investment in the region and it continues to ignore ACOA. There is not one mention of ACOA in this budget. That is not a very strong statement of support at all.
I could go on, but in the few minutes I have left I am going to touch on the idea of a Crown corporation for the EI program and for setting the rates.
As for setting the rates, I really do not think that we need a Crown corporation set up with 12 members running it to set rates. I think the government could set the rates with a stroke of a pen. The rates have been high, I agree. They should be lower. They have been lowered. I think when we took power in 1993 we were running a $5 billion deficit in the EI account over the previous three years. The year after, 1994, we were running a surplus, and we have been ever since, and those rates have been going down.
It does not take a rocket scientist to know what is coming in from the EI account and what is going out. If there is a great desire to lower the rates dramatically, it could be done easily. This seems to me to be the thin edge of the wedge. Eventually the members of Parliament are going to be cut out of the running of this program and cut out of making any changes to this program to benefit areas of high unemployment.
I hope that enough people can get together to beat this budget.