moved that Bill C-235, An Act respecting the building of a green economy in the Prairies, be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great pleasure for me to rise in the House on behalf of the people of Winnipeg South Centre. It is with particular passion and enthusiasm that I talk about this bill, which is so important to my region of the country and indeed the country as a whole.
I will begin with some words of praise about the committee process itself.
As my friend, the member for Winnipeg North, knows so well and as we experienced together in the Manitoba legislature, when we ask the public, when we ask witnesses to comment on a bill, every time they improve it. When we think that we have looked at every nook and cranny of a piece of legislation, all of a sudden, our oversights are picked up by others who may not be quite as immersed in the detail that we have been, in my case, for many months or, on another level, maybe many years. I do have to say that this bill was improved, and I want to thank the witnesses for making these improvements possible.
Also, I am thankful for the tone and tenor, which is sometimes partisan. It is sometimes difficult, particularly for those of us who have some pride of authorship, to know that perfection is elusive. There are oversights, and there are better ways of doing things. Indeed, the process of the committee itself indicated that in a way that I think was very important. There have been amendments that have been proposed and agreed to by members of the committee, in some cases on division and in some cases not, and they are common-sense amendments.
For example, the original bill talked about an 18-month timeline for the framework to be developed. However, things take too long around here. Sometimes the pace of change is more important than the change itself. To move the period from 18 months to 12 months made a lot of sense, and it was immediately accepted.
Also, there was not enough thought given to the role of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, which is an essential part of the prairie region with our capacity to grow and with the importance of taking what we grow and moving it internationally. For example, the province of Saskatchewan is the most trading province of all. More than 60% of what is produced in Saskatchewan is exported internationally. Increasingly, it is not just the natural resource or the product. It is the value-added production, which is creating jobs right across the region and making a difference for the producers who are actually the essential lifeline.
Speaking of lifelines, the work of committees is the lifeblood of Parliament. It is where some of the heavy lifting is done. It is where parliamentarians come together, seek common cause and seek to align aspirations in the national interest, which is precisely the essential element of this bill. There was not any reference to jurisdictional creep, because there is none. This is respectful of constitutional jurisdictional divisions in Canada, which are the essential note of Canadian federalism. It moves from time to time and is in constant flux as circumstances change.
However, I am very happy to report that, through witnesses and other ways in which we could discern public opinion, such as through letters, conversations and the associations that came forward to make their views known, this bill has been substantially improved. I am very grateful for that and for the capacity of the committee. Through representing all kinds of opinion across the country, we were able to align essentially in the same place, which I think is so important.
The framework adds leaves to the national table. It reaches out to people and says, “You should be here.” Who are the “you”? It is provincial governments, indigenous communities and leadership, NGOs, unions and municipalities. To invite people to tables where they have never been invited before, in itself, is major progress in the way in which our federalism grows. Sometimes it happens at a pace that makes some of us feel impatient, but if we are patient we will end up in a better place than where we began.
That is the story of how we were able to move this bill along incrementally, but in ways that are impactful and will be, it is my hope, not just for tomorrow and next month but for years to come. When I am asked by people what impact I think this bill, if passed into Canadian law, would have on the way in which we do business as a nation, my answer is, from zero to changing the way we do business as a nation.
The missing ingredient is political will. The political will would have to come from implicated ministers within the Government of Canada and within their own jurisdictions. However, to have the value-added from provinces, municipalities and indigenous communities is the missing ingredient. They would have to report back, and do it within 12 months.
We can debate what number is the best number, but what should not be debatable is that there must be accountability. If a group of people is given a job to do but no timeline and no way in which to be accountable for the work they do, it is pretty empty. This bill is not empty. It is full of promise.
Here is snapshot of some of the problems we face on the prairie. I had hoped to travel in traditional ways, by airplanes, railways and buses, to give speeches in Saskatoon and Edmonton, and points south and west. However, I am glad we changed our minds and made it a virtual tour. If I had relied on airplanes, I would have had to wait for the only plane from Saskatoon to Edmonton. I would have been on the ground and sitting on an uncomfortable chair for seven and a half hours.
It is outrageous, in a dynamic region of our country that produces so much wealth, that we cannot figure out a way to move people by any mode of transportation. That is an outrageous reality. It is a snapshot in time. It is one example of many, but it is a real one that affects people every day of their lives as they try to move around this dynamic region.
What about the prairie region itself? We have been creating wealth since we became a nation, and since the western provinces became part of Canadian Confederation. In a dynamic region where wealth is created, we love to have endless debates about how we are going to distribute the wealth in our country. My colleague thinks there should be more spent on health care. My other colleague thinks it should be spent on education. Frankly, I want a lot more money for symphony orchestras. We have to talk more about cement infrastructure. We have to talk about the poet, the artist and the musician. This is what is really distinctive about who we are.
Any discussion about the prairie region goes well beyond the traditions of infrastructure and bridges, or even support for producers and value-added production. It has to extend to wealth creation, which is the job of the private sector. Government is better at determining how we distribute the wealth, for which it should be accountable. As a Liberal who feels very comfortable with this balance between distribution and creation, I think it is an important distinction to make.
I want to thank the institutions of Parliament, which I think in this case have produced exactly what they ought to produce. Hopefully, it will be a result that will make people feel even more comfortable with the prairie region. The beauty of the bill and the template that is implicit in it is that it is equally applicable to other regions. Who is going to argue against this kind of inclusion of putting leaves in the table with the knowledge that people have been asked? If we do not ask, then we will not benefit from the wisdom that they no doubt will be able to share with the rest of us.
I rise here with a sense of gratitude to the committee, to colleagues, knowing that it is going to come back. There will be accountability and there will be measurement. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to move along this notion of the next chapter of federalism and wealth creation. For that I am grateful.