[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Thursday, December 12, 1996
The Chairman: I call this meeting to order.
This will be the last day of the natural resources committee's hearings on rural development.
The committee decided a couple of weeks ago that one of the important parts of this process would be to hear from our colleagues from all sides of the House, so we sent an invitation out to all 295 members of Parliament. A few have taken us up on the offer, and we've set aside today to ask them to provide us with their ideas about rural development.
We're pleased to have Dianne Brushett from Cumberland - Colchester.
Would you like to proceed, Dianne?
Mrs. Dianne Brushett, MP (Cumberland - Colchester): Thank you, Mr. Chairman and colleagues from all parties on the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.
I appreciate the opportunity, as a colleague and member of Parliament, to come before my own peers to express my views on issues that for me are of an urgent nature and to share and dialogue as to how we can give the priority to and place the value on rural Canada that I believe it truly deserves in a country as large as Canada.
Let me begin by stating that I think this government began the process when we stopped the closure of rural post offices. That to me was a signal, a turning point, that we would give priority to rural Canada.
It was important as well because it left the presence of the Canadian flag waving over a small building, though sometimes a very shabby building in lots of my rural communities. I stop by and present them with a new flag when I go by, if it starts to look shabby. Nevertheless, that flag is flying.
As well, the rural post office serves as a communal focal point where people can exchange ideas and share who needs help, who's in difficulty and how things are going in the rural areas. It is very much a community centre point.
The vital point I want to add is on the value-added in rural resource sector industries. In that area I might cite the example of the food processing plants. There is a plant called Oxford Frozen Foods Ltd. in the small community of Oxford, Nova Scotia. That plant employs up to 3,000 people, when you take in the total concept of all it encompasses.
Take the wild blueberry, for example - a very high commodity item. Blueberries are harvested in the fields, from high-technology harvesters today to manual picking of those blueberries. Then they are trucked to the sheds, where they're stored and crated, and then from the sheds they go to the frozen food plants. There are many workers in the plant, and either they are doing the fresh product or they're doing the flash freezing for commodity export or the long-term freezing, labelling and packaging. And virtually all of it's exported as a small commodity for the shelf.
This value-added creates jobs - substantial jobs, and perhaps the only jobs in some rural areas. It's really important that we stress the concept of more research for those kinds of agrifood products. For example, in the blueberry again, we're now producing more than we can ever consume, so we need to look for new markets and new food products. So we're doing research.
We've also had another spin-off industry of the honey bee industry. Because of the mites with honey bees coming in from the U.S., we've had to prohibit that, and we've developed our own colonies of a stronger, better breed of bee and better hives for containing them over the winter.
So there are these spin-offs. The better we produce a quality product and the more new markets, nutritional value and new food products we have, the more growth and spin-offs we have. So the value-added concept is important for my area, whether it be in agrifood, wood fibre processing or the fisheries. Those are three of our great resource sectors that do provide an opportunity to create and sustain more jobs in that area.
I can't tell you where I'm citing this from, but one job in rural Canada generates up to 10 jobs in downtown Toronto or downtown Halifax. That works because with one dairy farmer - one job producing in the dairy farm - by the time that milk gets picked up by the container tanker, goes to the milk processing plant, becomes processed, pasteurized, packaged, quality controlled and on and on, until it reaches the grocery shelf and gets into the consumer's fridge, 10 jobs are created from that one job in the rural area.
That's what we have to remember about rural Canada. That's true whether it's in agriculture, farming or forestry. It's probably true in the fishery too, but I haven't cited those specifics precisely.
This is the value of rural Canada. It could be mining in the north, which creates jobs in downtown Toronto in the stock exchanges, the process, the ownership, the quality control, the geology and so on. This is the real value of rural Canada.
In terms of the value-added, maintaining the balance is vital to urban centres, and so many people have no concept of that. Even my own colleagues from urban areas never realized that. They didn't know. So the first thing is we have to get out the message, loud and clear, of the value of jobs in rural Canada.
Again, the application of these jobs and the spin-off to the urban centres is quite phenomenal, if we take each resource sector and analyse it to its fullest to see those jobs.
Another important resource that is key to me is our environment. How to protect that environment and rural areas is a vital component, and it's a component that must be sustained with strong, sustainable policies. That means policies in the fisheries, in forestry and in land resource management, which encompasses agriculture.
How to utilize those land bases or those resources to their maximum productivity while at the same time replenishing that sustainability so they will be there for the next generation? We have a key role to play there.
I could talk about Nova Scotia and clear-cutting. It's my greatest concern and the big concern of many of the foresters down there that the provincial government has no policy, when it is their jurisdiction. They will cite numbers of the inventory, for lack of a better word, of the growth and the stands of the forests, whether hardwood or softwood, but the numbers are really not very reliable. At the same time, there are no controls as to how much we can cut into that inventory year after year.
So someone has to take the lead on this to establish a sustainable policy as to what the inventories are in our forestries. It's not our role as a federal government, but it's not happening at the provincial level, and we're depleting that resource, whether through clear-cutting or through manual cutting, without sustaining it. Somehow we have to show leadership in sustainability in those resource sectors.
I can cite many examples that I have seen over the years. When you live long enough, you end up seeing most everything eventually, and you've been exposed to it. My father was a lumber man in rural New Brunswick. We have sustained that business for perhaps five generations now. Even my oldest brother, who died suddenly in June, was the owner of that lumbering company. It's a hardwood lumbering company. His two sons had to take over very suddenly, but they'd been in the woods with him, learning to saw, learning to identify trees and to sustain them, cutting what needed to be cut, and knowing what was best. Every portion of the tree was always cut. We learned as children, while walking through the woods, the value of nature and the sustainability of it.
We come to our fisheries, where we've depleted our cod because we've begun technological procedures such as dragging. Jean Payne has a beautiful picture in her office that shows where nets have been dragged across the ocean floor to capture everything that was there. It's left a desert on the ocean floor. There's no algae, moss, phytoplankton, or any of the plants for species to feed on, hide or breed under, or for photosynthesis to occur in a very natural process to maintain an ecosystem.
So when you drag something, when you deplete it, when you continually rape the soil and don't put back, you have a barren desert that will sustain nothing. This is why we have to have those sustainable policies and someone has to take that leadership. Forestry is a big one because it's such a vital component of our exports, of our whole domestic Canadian economy.
As well, in my opinion, we must deal with providing, in some small way, support for 4-H Clubs for exhibitions in rural communities. Many people will say, oh, exhibitions, that's ridiculous; how can you talk such nonsense? But an exhibition allows our cattlemen, our breeders and our farmers to showcase the high-quality livestock they have on their farms, showcase the value. It demonstrates to the urban people, again, this is where it originates. It doesn't happen to get into that nice fancy package downtown on the grocer's shelf; this is where it comes from. If we're not out in that barn at4 a.m. keeping those milkers clean, practising quality control and breeding new high-quality stocks...
Again, we do an awful lot in Canada - this perhaps isn't recognized as much as it should be - in genetic engineering of high-quality producers, whether it be dairy cattle, beef stocks or new hybrids. We export that technology, and we export that sperm for artificial insemination. We do a lot of work there that very often goes unrecognized.
So I think it's critical that exhibitions do get some funding, get some support, because it's an opportunity for our youth, for our young farmers, and for the owners of farms, with the capital they've tied up, to showcase those animals, new species, new breeds, new technology, new meats on the market, new hybrids - the love to do it.
That's why I say it's vital. It's not nonsense at all but a vital component of demonstrating, or showcasing, for want of a better word, the real value of rural Canada in the agricultural sector.
I have another point I want to make, with a few recommendations. In talking to my farmers, my foresters and my fishermen, for the most part they don't want grants. They don't want a handout. They're pleased that we have cut grants to farmers. They're pleased that under the WTO and NAFTA we've sustained the supply management system, but it is on a downward scale. We'll eventually be phased out. They're pleased, in a sense, that we've cut the assistance in freight and so on.
They believe at one time they were sustainable. This would go back to pre-Confederation days; in Atlantic Canada you always have to give your history and come forward. They were great exporters, great sustainable farmers, great sustainable fishermen and so on, but with technology and other changes they became more dependent.
That dependency is hard to change. Once you've given it to somebody, it's hard to take away. But in their hearts and in their deepest souls, they've said to me, ``It's better, Dianne, if we don't have it. We will become sustainable. Don't pull the rug out completely, and so quickly that we collapse, but give us the slow upward scale again.''
In doing that, what I would recommend - and what they would like to have - is tax credits, basically. If you're looking at a farmer, for example, who wants to upgrade a manure pit or silage, or work in some of these environmental areas, or perhaps build a new culvert that is more sustainable to his operation, then give him a tax credit. Encourage him to do it.
Take the wood-lot owner, for instance. Encourage him to be a sustainable silviculturist so that he will cut, he will thin, he will plant new trees to make sure the operation stays there. Give him the tax credit so that he will maintain an environmentally sustainable wood-lot so that there is future growth and so that we can put a stamp on it under ISO 9000 and International Organization for Standardization that it is acceptable under environmental practices. So this is what they're asking for - a tax credit to encourage that rather than a grant.
I'll give you an example from the shell fishery. Since I've been here - three years - I have argued with two ministers of fisheries to increase the size of the carapace of the little lobster. The carapace is the back portion of the lobster. Some of us who practise sustainability want it increased to 2.75 inches for the minimum size. Fishermen in my riding have been fighting for that for a decade. Fishermen in Prince Edward Island, for example, like the smaller lobsters. Well, if you catch all of the smaller ones, they don't grow up enough to breed and reproduce, so you're depleting that species just as we depleted the cod species.
As I say, I've been arguing with two ministers of fisheries for three years to set a standard of 2.75-inch carapace as the minimum size. I haven't won my argument, obviously, but we still keep arguing it. For example, my fishermen have drawn lines on the water and have guns on their boats. If you go into their territory and take the small fish, there are going to be problems.
People in rural areas are close enough to nature, for the most part, that they want to see sustainability. They encourage us as politicians to practise it here.
I give you that as an example of something where I haven't been able to win the argument but have been bringing forward.
I'll wrap up here. There is probably a lot more we could say.
In terms of technology in rural areas, I have many communities that still have party telephone lines. With party telephone lines you can't hook onto the web site on the Internet. We're asking that if we do strategies or programs, somehow we encourage the communications system, the private companies we work with in partner, to some way encourage single-line communication. That way, everyone would have the opportunity for community access either through their community school or through their private entrepreneurial efforts to give an opportunity to people to sustain a livelihood and a quality of life in rural Canada that they would like to have.
I could mention seasonal jobs in a lot of these areas, particularly in tourism, which is key. We have developed ecotourism. In my area we have beautiful coastlines and beautiful parks. This is what people come to see. They want that passive activity in nature rather than a lot of gidgets and gadgets.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman. If there are any comments or questions, I'd be happy to stay and answer them.
The Chairman: Thank you, Dianne. Before we go to questions and comments - and we weren't really planning to do that, but we might have the time - perhaps I could ask you to wait around for a few minutes. We'll let John give his presentation, and then if we have a gap we'll go to some questions and answers.
Mrs. Brushett: Okay.
The Chairman: John.
Mr. John Bryden, MP (Hamilton - Wentworth): I wish I could make this show and tell, because I would like to go from Ontario to the east coast for my opening remarks.
During the summer I had occasion to travel in Newfoundland, in Roger Simmons's riding. As is often the case with tourists, my wife and I stopped at local craft stores. In one particular craft store there were Christmas decorations for sale. I'll describe to you what they consisted of.
One type of decoration was a Christmas tree globe-type ornament, consisting of a sea urchin shell that had lost the needles. It had simply been painted white. It had a little gold fringe around the edge of it. It made a beautiful Christmas tree ornament.
Another thing this person did was to take a whelk shell and slice it into two halves. Of course, you got this beautiful spiral effect. That made another Christmas tree ornament.
A third one consisted of a crab shell carapace, again painted white, with gold on the inside and a little bit of decoration around the edge of the crab shell. That made a third beautiful Christmas tree decoration.
Finally, the best one of all was the simple cockle shell, painted gold, with the little head of an angel with a little bit of hair on it. That was the fourth Christmas tree decoration.
I looked at these - and I bought them, not my wife, because I was so attracted by them. A woman from one of the very small outport settlements on the coast had created these things with her own imagination. As I'd spent so many years working in Toronto, I thought to myself that if she could only have a market in Toronto, she would make a killing. Anywhere on the beaches around that part of Newfoundland you can walk for miles and there are sea urchin shells and crab carapaces lying everywhere.
What struck me was that here was an incredible resource that we as Canadians, and Newfoundlanders in this particular instance, do not have the infrastructure to assist and support. These are people living in their rural communities, in this case in Newfoundland, who have this close connection with the land and the natural resources. They can translate this into a valuable product that would be marketable and that would make a lot of profit for these rural people in the major urban centres.
In that context, I've spent most of my career life in the big city, but probably less well known is the fact that I've lived for the last 28 years in a small village in rural Ontario, so I'm very used to village life. One of the things that has always struck me is that in the farming community, as in any rural community, the spouses have traditionally supported their husbands on the farm and in the rural enterprises. These spouses always adopt, of necessity, the same level of business acumen, because a farm operation is always a family operation in which there's a great deal of expertise developed. Indeed, the farmers anywhere in the country were probably the first to have personal computers, because of the reality that if you're going to compete as a farmer you have to compete in the global market.
My reason for coming before the committee was to make an appeal to this committee to turn some very serious attention to how we can develop women, in particular, on the farm, in rural Canada as an economic resource. I feel this is an untapped resource that has enormous potential. Oddly enough, in Third World nations we see that women are a very important part of the family economy and the national economy. I don't feel that we have really appreciated this in Canada.
If you go to any craft sale or you go along the highway you will see various small enterprises that are basically run by the women of rural Canada. They're usually run with great imagination and great expertise, because the business expertise is usually there.
Most of you are probably aware that I'm very much a critic of the financial statements of non-profit and charitable organizations. In the course of doing my report on charities and non-profit organizations, I received through the mail about six weeks ago a letter from an organization calling themselves Women and Rural Economic Development. They sent some letters to MPs soliciting some interest, and they sent their annual report. I looked at their annual report and I can say it is the very model of a well-run, non-profit business.
I asked the representatives of this organization to come into my office, and they described what they were doing. They are only about two years old. I would have had them appear here, but because you're at the end of your hearings I'm going to speak for them.
I've given you a copy of their annual report, which you can examine, but I would like to read into the record some of their accomplishments, some of the things they're doing that are relevant to tapping the resources of rural women in Canada.
They have been delivering self-employment training to 306 women in rural Ontario, resulting in the establishment of 240 new businesses, grossing $3.75 million. They've only started this; it is only two years old.
They've created the rural enterprise loan fund, a fund designed to help small business clients obtain loans and create a credit history. Twenty loans have been implemented.
What's important here is that because these women entrepreneurs start up in such a small way, it's very difficult for them to get any bank attention whatsoever. So this organization is tapping into various corporation funds. They've found their own financial resources for this loan program. They have a little bit of money from sources such as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the Credit Union Central of Ontario, and the Huron Business Development Corporation, just to give them a little pool of money that they can lend to these women entrepreneurs. So they've done very well there.
They have accumulated a library of entrepreneurial instruction manuals. They've now set up a web site so that the women entrepreneurs of rural Canada can actually access them and get helpful tools. They are working with some other women's entrepreneurial centres elsewhere in the province. They have various mentoring programs and so forth.
I'm not going to make a pitch for money for them, but they say in their annual report that they're supported by the Government of Ontario and the federal government. But the only support they have in fact received from the federal government has been some very small grants totalling only $6,000 from the Status of Women.
I submit to you, as I did to them, and they agreed, that what they are doing has very little to do with the status of women program. What it has to do with is the entrepreneurs in rural Canada who need, if not our financial assistance, certainly our moral assistance. They have of course been in a situation where they've had a great deal of difficulty being heard. Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, it's an honour to be able to plead their case.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Bryden.
We'll now go to Mr. Crête.
Mr. Paul Crête, MP (Kamouraska - Rivière-du-Loup): I apologize for being late.
I would like to talk to you about a conference that was held in my riding, in Saint-Germain-de-Kamouraska. This conference, entitled "Le rendez-vous du monde rural", brought together some 250 people, among whom were academics and local development officials from Europe, Quebec and Canada. As a matter of fact, I had sent out invitations to all MPs.
The results of this conference emphasized means of reviving small municipalities.
My riding includes 55 municipalities of 500, 600 or 800 residents. One of the major problems is that the vertical structure of federal and provincial governments is often an obstacle to local community development.
It is the federal government that is the farthest from the people. It must be very careful when it gets involved at the local level, because, given its bureaucracy, it often has a tendency to establish strict standards, which is very dangerous for local communities.
Take for example the changes made to the Employment Insurance Act. I do not want to turn this into a partisan debate, but these changes are going to completely transform the strategic and economic strategies of various regions of Canada. Whether these transformations are positive or negative will come out in the coming weeks, months and years, and local communities will have to live with the new reality.
I believe it is important that we draw lessons from the conference I just mentioned . It was really very important, very significant, and if it interests you, I would be most pleased to supply you with additional information about it.
A second element that is to my mind important is that of the CFDCs, or Community Futures Development Corporations. I do not know what the equivalent is in the other provinces, but it is a federal structure that comes under the Federal Office of Regional Development and which flows from the Community Futures Program which used to come under Human Resources Development Canada.
It has since been transferred to the Federal Office of Regional Development, where it is an extension of its economic initiatives. My impression is that we are losing an important contribution to community development, community involvement and community action.
A means must be found for this action to be maintained, with a clear and very precise mandate that would be given to CFDCs or that would be carried simply through decentralization to existing local development structures. There could be different practices in different provinces.
Quebec is, among other things, in the process of establishing local employment committees, local development structures within regional municipalities, and I believe it is important to put a stop to duplication. If we must continue to have parallel structures, then we must at least ensure that these groups maintain their community development and involvement mandates.
Often, this is the first mandate that is forgotten by locally elected representatives, given the vast number of problems they are faced with. They do not always have the necessary experience to bring these development programs to fruition.
A lot is being asked of locally elected representatives these days. It used to be that they were seen as the superintendents of the smaller municipalities. Now, they are being turned into developers. They must be given the means they need, but we must also ensure that they understand local involvement approaches.
Another element is to my mind important. The federal government has a mission to accomplish, that of clearly establishing that Canada aims to develop its regions in accordance with their capabilities and not through moving people about according to where the jobs are. This is a fundamental choice. But this is not what the employment insurance reform is aiming to do.
In Newfoundland, during the course of our tour in our study of the employment insurance reform, I saw some documents posted up in an employment centre explaining to people the advantages of moving out West.
There may be some exceptional cases but practically speaking, we should have a principle at the outset: each region of Quebec or of Canada has potential and our purpose should be to enhance this potential rather than to tell people to go where economic activity leads them. If we build Canada as if it were a company, a business, we will all suffer the consequences in the end.
We should also stress the importance of establishing the electronic highway through the community action program. Various pilot projects have been launched in this area.
All of this must be developed as quickly as possible, because this is a very important asset. Now that work can be done via the computer, it is more feasible for a young engineer or a freelance reporter to go and live and work outside of the major centres.
This is why the tools must be there, and this ties in directly with the assistance given, through the improvement of telephone lines, for example. Often, governments can accomplish very concrete things through the installation of individual lines so that people are able to find work where they live rather than having to move elsewhere and letting the market forces rule.
I would also like to give a few important words of caution. The Radwanski Report makes very bad choices for rural development in Canada, with the exception of the moratorium on the closing of rural post offices. The decision to limit Canada Post to letters will bring about, in the medium term, the disappearance of local post offices or else such a high increase in the price of stamps that citizens will view privatization as the best solution. To my mind, this decision goes against the interests of rural development.
I am a Quebec sovereignist. It really upsets me to see the Canadian flag in each and every village, but it is a doorway for the government. It is the only doorway that is left for the federal government, and last year, it decided to close the village post offices that gave out passports. Passports are no longer given out in post offices.
Other departments are starting to leave. If all that is left for them is letters, then we may all win in the next elections, but we will have lost something as far as direct services to the population are concerned. We should be paying particular attention to that.
It would be wise for you to become familiar with the regional development structures that exist in each of the provinces. I was not able to do a detailed study of your analysis, but it would be worthwhile to determine if certain provinces have made progress compared with others.
In some provinces, there may be direct action possibilities, because nothing is being put in place. In others, things have gone too far, with for example some full-employment measures. The independent work program, that is a very fine program of Human Resources Development Canada, provides for the establishment of micro-companies. But in some provinces this is blended with other financing programs. In Quebec, we have what is called the Plan Paillé, which allows people to borrow 50 000 $ over three years to launch a company.
Lastly, I am always filled with admiration for local developers, because they always succeed in adapting to the jurisdictional jungle they are faced with. Whether we are talking of a local developer or of a local government, one always has to find a way. If it were not for the complicity that exists between local development players, namely CFDCs and development corporations, this system would not be working at all. We therefore must find a way of financing the system and of ensuring that it functions properly.
That is about all I wanted to say. Thank you for listening.
Canada's economic space is very closely tied to the development of rural communities. If we choose to function solely according to the rules of the market-place, in the middle-term, we will once again be faced with the problems of urban sprawl around the larger centres.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Crête.
We have a few minutes. Would any of the members like to ask some questions?
I think Julian asked first and then Marlene was second.
Julian, go ahead.
Mr. Reed (Halton - Peel): Thank you very much.
What interests me about this is that it is a fresh look at themes that have common denominators all across Canada. In all the studies we've seen this very common thread, but what intrigues me here is that we see everybody in a commonality of purpose - the ties that bind, if you like - and there are more ties that bind us than break us apart. I find that reassuring among all of you.
I want to ask you a question. This notion has been thrown at us before, and I wonder what your thoughts are. The idea is to create a ministry specifically devoted to rural development, whether it's a secretariat or a full-fledged ministry. That idea was put forward again yesterday to the agriculture committee by Jack Wilkinson, and it's a thought that's been tossed around this committee before.
I would be pleased to hear the comments of each one of you. You can choose which end you would like to start at.
Mrs. Brushett: Thank you, Julian.
Perhaps you know I went to the Prime Minister a few months ago asking for a full ministerial portfolio for rural economic development. He said no this time, but we have to be persistent. I believe that is the way to go, though we do have to prevent the overlaps, because right now it is a problem.
I come back to dealing with our forests. Who's keeping track of the inventory of what Canada has and who's setting a certain percentage that can be cut? To my best knowledge there's no one, and we're depleting that resource faster than we can ever generate it. Someone has to take hold of it, and maybe that's where a minister of rural economic development would come in. And it should supersede all other departments. Give it the priority, because rural Canada is such a vital component of Canada and it has to be prioritized that way. It has to be given the profile it truly deserves.
Every country is struggling with the concept of how to keep people living in rural areas, because they run out of jobs. We've virtually all said that. In every part of the country, when there's no work, you head to the city. Every country is struggling with that.
It would behoove us to lead the way to profile rural Canada, because of our great geography, as a vital component, particularly with the great, vast northland we have, which will be such an asset, if we maintain it properly, in days to come.
Mr. Bryden: The computer and the global marketplace are liberating rural Canada. There's an opportunity to tap the abilities and the resources of rural Canada unlike there has ever been before because of the computer and our communications technologies. So I support the concept very much.
Rural Canada, whether it's in Quebec, Saskatchewan or wherever, has a unique perspective on the marketplace, on the environment and on our very way of life that's unlike urban Canada's. The sad reality is that urban Canada has dominated the economic and political philosophy of this country for years and years. There's a great contribution to be made if we can tap into the resources in the rest of Canada.
Let me say one thing while I have an opportunity, speaking of that theme. When the floods occurred in the Saguenay region, the people in my rural village of Lynden, on their own initiative, collected several truckloads of things to send to help the people of Quebec who were suffering from the floods. What was occurring there was the people in my community responding to the people in another rural community. It crossed all barriers of sovereignty or language, because the people in Lynden understood what was happening to the people in Quebec better than anyone in urban Canada could understand.
This is a resource that's underutilized in this country, and we need to press the government very hard to set up a secretariat, at the very least, for rural Canada, which would look after not only economic and environmental issues but even political issues.
Mr. Crête: I find that very interesting. However, as far as I am concerned, I would prefer a statement of principle, some kind of charter of the rural world, establishing that federal government action will be aimed at local development and that there will be concerted efforts by all departments.
Mr. Manley, Mr. Martin, Mr. Pettigrew and all of the other ministers should integrate into their programs an approach that takes development into account: all actions should take into account local development and people and departments would be evaluated based upon their accomplishments in the area of local development.
If the reforms were based on a principle such as that, their impact would be much different. I am thinking for example of the ports and airports reform. Even if some aspects of this decentralization are interesting, we could have gone further still.
I would therefore favour a system in which all departments would be obligated to pursue rural development. This might be accomplished by requiring of each department that it appear every four years before the parliamentary committee to explain, for example, how it contributed to attaining these objectives, how it plans on pursuing its action, etc.
The Parti québécois, before coming into power, followed the same process regarding the appropriateness of having a local or rural development department. Its one's first reflex. If you do that, you create somewhat of a separate group that works in opposition to the more sectorial departments. Each department should be required to adjust its initiatives in this context. But it is not easy to get the federal bureaucratic machine to move in this way. We have been saying this for 25 years and they were the ones in power in Canada.
The Chairman: Thank you. Marlene.
Mrs. Cowling (Dauphin - Swan River): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
One of the objectives of our committee - I guess the main objective - is to create a climate for rural Canada to grow and prosper. Part of that climate is small and medium-sized businesses.
When we were in Goose Bay, Labrador, we had an opportunity to stop at a little craft store. I also had the opportunity to purchase a pair of slippers. They were handmade. All of the articles in that community had either been handmade or hand-crafted. I purchased one set of slippers. They didn't have the other set I wanted, so I paid for it, and a week later it arrived.
The person who made those slippers is a 70-year-old woman from that community who has been making slippers all her life. One thing I find in rural Canada is the quality of life and the element of trust. I left the dollars. The slippers arrived.
My question is, to develop entrepreneurship, to develop the skills of the people in rural areas, what would you recommend this committee do to enhance those skills? Because a lot of those entrepreneurs are in fact...this particular woman, who's been doing this all of her life. What should we be doing?
Mr. Crête: I would have two suggestions to make. My first one, and this appears in the documentation of Industry Canada, would be to give priority to small enterprise for the development of export markets. The example you gave is a good one. If we have a distinctive local product that is capable of garnering international interest and if Canadian embassies are aware that it exists and promote it, then there will be greater job creation.
The Standing Committee on Government Operations is presently studying the government's procurement policy. Today, there are informal networks that are much stronger than any procurement policy. It is very difficult to gain access to those networks. If we were able to find a way for companies that are situated very far from major centres to compete, that would be a first step. We should at least be providing them with the opportunity to compete.
As far as exports are concerned, our best weapon is maple syrup. In our area, we could sell maple syrup products with "appellation contrôlée" labels guaranteeing the quality or the county of origin, the same way it is done for wine. We could sell our value-added product to Japan, to all sorts of countries, but there must be a network in place to bring the local product to international markets. The government has a role to play in this.
Mr. Bryden: To add to that, what I said in my presentation, of course, was very close to what you said. The problem is one of marketing. You find these wonderful things all across the country. Even MPs, if I may say so, sometimes take for granted what the little entrepreneurs are doing in their own ridings. We don't realize that what's produced in Roger Simmons's riding may be of tremendous interest in Toronto, or something produced in B.C., and so it goes.
I really think that, first of all, there's a communication barrier - not problem - we have to cross here. I believe the means to cross it are there. This is why I emphasize the personal computer. All of rural Canada, I'm sure from coast to coast, is aware of the PC. They were onto it and its potential before urban Canada, as a general rule.
So I very much support government not directly intervening in the small business marketplace with these people, but I really do believe non-profit organizations, such as Women and Rural Economic Development, which spring out of the community, understand the community and are the ones that can help that community reach the marketplace. When we reach the marketplace we do more than just bring some economic benefit to Canada. The beauty of it all is that we come to understand ourselves better. This great, vast land we have is not all urban. Most of it's rural.
In terms of the communication links, as Julian was suggesting, that will bring us together, the keys are probably more in rural Canada than in urban Canada. In urban Canada, perhaps, if you just compare Toronto with Vancouver, for example, not even looking at Quebec, you see a terrific difference, a conflict, if you will, or a friction, whereas if you take the people from the countryside in B.C. and compare them with the people in the countryside in Ontario or in the Maritimes or in Quebec, you'll find people who think alike in many ways.
So I think this is a resource this country could tap. It's a great natural resource, if I may say so.
Mrs. Brushett: I think we do this some in the east, but this would be referred to as a cottage industry. It emerges from the household and then comes into the marketplace. But banks have never recognized cottage industries. Banks have a set mentality out there that if you don't need $10 million they don't want to talk to you. That mentality never translates down to a woman small entrepreneur who makes slippers out of rabbit skins or who does whatever. We have literally thousands and thousands of those entrepreneurs. It's women entrepreneurs today.
I spoke in the House recently about creating jobs four to one what the counterpart is in the industry sector today. It's emerging from the cottage industry. They're finding they can succeed. The glass ceiling is breaking a little bit.
However, what we can do is develop a cottage industry fund so that this person, who is in her household and maybe needs $1,000 to buy inventory supplies from Toronto or Halifax or wherever, and doesn't quite have her payment in from you or me or somebody else who may have bought her goods, can get a little bit of a revolving cashflow. That' where a cottage industry fund would come into place. It's almost a hands-on approach, but she can keep that inventory...
The second beauty of the benefit is that she may have a child, a granddaughter, somebody who can learn the tricks of the culture and that wonderful skill. We set up a centre in a place called Stewiacke in my riding. We took the aboriginal masters of certain trades in the area and made a showcase for tourism in the summertime. There's basket-weaving in a particular style of weave. They're weaving, displaying that particular weave, that cultural talent, and teaching others. Someone else might be doing beautiful beadwork.
So it's an opportunity for the older generation to pass on that wonderful heritage of culture to the younger generation, and to do it in the cottage industry.
Mr. Bryden: May I add to that, Mr. Chairman. I'm going to leave you this material. This group does have this rural enterprise loan fund, which is designed to provide ``microloans'' of up to $3,000 to women in rural communities. Elsewhere in the literature here it's pointed out that of course this type of loan you can't get from banks. They're just not interested in that type of thing. So maybe this is an area in which the federal government can be proactive.
Coming back to my original point, the federal government is not involved in this program at all except as a status of women program and a very small sum. I don't think it belongs as a status of women program. This is something about small business, small entrepreneurs, rural Canada and natural resources.
The Chairman: I have a specific question for you, Paul. If I understood you correctly, you talked about the Community Futures organizations, which we've heard about across the country and which operate in Quebec as well. If I heard you correctly, though, there was a suggestion that since they came under the auspices of Industry Canada through the regional development agency, they've solely concentrated on business development and have forgotten about the community development aspect.
Was that the concern I heard?
Mr. Crête: Yes. When it came under Human Resources Development Canada, the community development aspect was very present. Now that it comes under the Federal Office of Regional Development, we cannot say that there is ill will, but the people at the agency were experts in the areas of economic analysis and project profitability analysis. But it is not solely through economic development that a community succeeds. A certain number of conditions must be present. My fear is that if there are further budget cuts the community development aspect will the first to be hit.
It is an issue of philosophies and approaches. It would be worthwhile to ensure, within these organizations as within all departments, a different approach regarding local community development.
The Chairman: Thank you very much.
We were going to have another witness, but I guess she was not able to come. I thank everybody. I very much appreciate it.
I wish everybody a happy holiday season. Go home and enjoy.
We stand adjourned.
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