THUNDER BAY -- The consolidation of Canada's regional economic development agencies and the removal of individual ministers responsible for them will not have an impact on the work they do, says the federal minister of innovation, technology and regional development.
Liberal Navdeep Bains on Thursday said the opposition has misrepresented the plan for the agencies, including the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, which has been proposed under Bill C-24. The legislation removes individual ministerial responsibility for five regional agencies, that in addition to FedNor include the Canadian Economic Development for Quebec Regions, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and Western Economic Diversification Canada.
Nothing is going to change, suggested Bains during a stop in Thunder Bay, other than the reporting structure.
“They still have a distinct mandates, they are still going to service local needs, and determine how to diversify the local economies, and work with local parliaments to make those investments.”
However, this is not how at least one opposition MP sees it.
On Wednesday, Charlie Angus (NDP, Timmins-James Bay) questioned the impact of Bill C-24, stating in a release the move stands in sharp contrast to campaign promises and underscores the Liberals' fading commitment to Northern Ontario.
"This move to mute Northern Ontario voices in Ottawa goes further than even the preceding Conservative government, who at least provided Northern Ontario with a dedicated minister on the file."
Then Kenora MP Greg Rickford took over the portfolio in July 2013 and retained it in March 2014, when he was named minister of natural resources, until the Conservative government was voted out of office a year ago. He was preceded by Tony Clement, when FedNor was rolled into his Treasury Board portfolio. Prior to that, then Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi was FedNor's minister of state from 2002 to 2005.
The Conservatives also shrunk FedNor's annual budget, dropping it from s high of $76 million a decade ago to its present $31-million allocation, according to a recent story in the Sudbury Star. The Liberals have not added to the agency's budget since coming to power.
Bains, who on Thursday did not address the budget situation, reassured Northern Ontarians it will be business as usual at FedNor and other regional development agencies across Canada.
“They still have their mandates, they still have their resources and we’ll continue to make sure those mandates are executed.”
Bains said the Liberal government remains committed to diversifying and growing the economy and job creation, which means agencies like FedNor will continue to play a vital role.
“We will continue to work with FedNor, and other departments to make (regional) investments,” Bains said.
“This is part of our governments overall agenda to co-ordinate better, align our resources and to get a better return on investments, so people can get good meaningful employment." -- With files from Nicole Dixon