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Decentralization of Federal Departments, Agencies and Crown Corporations

Honourable senators, I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to the issue of decentralizing the bureaucracy pursuant to the inquiry proposed by Senator Downe. This is not to be confused with the bureaucratic decentralization that consists in moving the offices outside Ottawa and the new Service Canada client services initiative.

As a former legislator from New Brunswick, I strongly support the Service New Brunswick approach, which facilitates access to government services for the people of my province. It is a wonderful challenge for public servants who work there, as they have to apply many skills and they are not limited to just one program, which often can be boring. It gives them greater job satisfaction and expands their professional horizons.

We must also recognize that our 308 riding offices are, in fact, one-stop services. In other words, they are Service Canada offices for people requiring a federal government service.

I can tell you with certainty that is the case for members representing the regions and small communities. Members and their staff answer questions from the public and direct people to the correct offices, the right staff, and information on program criteria. In short, we already have more than 350 one-stop offices across the country, although they are often viewed as being too political.

The experience of New Brunswick proved very successful, and the federal government could benefit from it in implementing Service Canada. However, I believe it is imperative that the federal operations of Service Canada be distinct from provincial operations. In this respect, you will agree with me that, to provide better customer service, the first thing to do is to get rid of the totally exasperating telephone answering system and to replace it with real flesh and bone operators answering the calls. Some might argue that this is a top of the line system, the preferred choice of the private sector. My answer to that is that, in dealing with the private sector, consumers have options but the same competitive environment does not exist for public services, and consumers do not have a choice.

Every 10 years since the 1970s, successive governments have endeavoured to move, or decentralize, certain departments outside of Ottawa. Despite the opposition faced, the displaced departments did manage to reduce their property and human resources costs and have become engines of economic development for their new region.

That is what I call leadership. Millions of dollars can be spent on programs to stimulate economic development in and attract investors to a given region, but unless it is prepared to move its operations to that region, the federal government is only distorting the economic record of the region with nothing more than wishful thinking. The federal government knows that the regions need economic development tools; there is no question about it. That is why I call on our government to show the way to the private sector and move its operations to regions that need an economic boost.

It is certainly pleasant living in Ottawa and raising a family there, but the capital does not have the corner on quality of life in Canada. While it is well situated geographically, it does not necessarily reflect our identity as a people, as the Constitution will testify.

Indeed, after more than 23 years, our national capital has yet to be designated bilingual by the Government of Ontario. It is simply scandalous!

In addition, this same Government of Ontario has been complaining in recent months of the fiscal imbalance. So we ask: to what extent does the location of our national capital contribute to the income of the Province of Ontario?

Excluding Crown corporations and government agencies, over 40 per cent of federal public service jobs are located in Ontario, and 20 per cent are in Quebec. Most of this 60 per cent of jobs are located in the Outaouais region, the rest are in Toronto and Montreal, in limited numbers. This figure represents over 200,000 federal government jobs, and I am not including Crown corporations and agencies.

Assuming an annual average salary of $55,000 per job, the total payroll amounts to some $11 billion a year. Of this $11 billion, some $7.5 billion returns to Ontario alone. It could be said as well that this represents $2.5 billion over and above the $5 billion in fiscal imbalance the Government of Ontario is complaining about.

Honourable senators, you will certainly agree with me that an $11 billion payroll will be welcome in any of our provinces.

It would remove them, too, from the equalization program and into the said financial contributor to the federation, like Ontario. They would certainly not complain about any fiscal imbalance, nor would they reject for 23 years the continuous request of Canadians to have a bilingual national capital.

As we say in our region, one should not complain with a full belly, or, as said elsewhere in the country, have your cake and eat it, too.

Honourable senators, I take this opportunity to highlight the positive impact of relocating one or more federal government operations in communities in my area, be it Grand Falls, Edmundston or Campbellton, New Brunswick. All these communities are able to provide bilingual services to all, and without additional training costs to the federal government.

In addition to luring private investment, the economic impact of relocating 1,000 federal jobs, or 0.3 per cent of federal public jobs, with an average of a $55 million payroll for those 1,000 jobs per year forever would increase the value of our human resources and enrolment in school and local post-secondary programs; increase local job opportunities, thus retaining our youth; increase real estate value and retail store revenues, hotel and restaurant revenues and tourism potential; increase air and train traffic with its critical mass and, therefore, assure the viability of these services for our population and business community; increase property revenues to local government, in addition to increased income tax and provincial sales tax to the Government of New Brunswick, and reduce our reliance on equalization payments; increase the community volunteer base; increase the viability and revenue base for recreational facilities; reduce our economic dependency on the exploration of our natural resources; reduce seasonality of our regional economy; reduce our unemployment rate and the required benefits from the Employment Insurance Program; reduce operational costs for the federal government and burden on taxpayers; and reduce the increasing need for economic development funds for our region.

To add some perspective of the financial revenue of this scenario, one can look at the 2005-06 federal budget and identify that ACOA's budget for this fiscal year for economic development — and this for the entire Atlantic provinces — is $45 million. This is $10 million lower than relocating 1,000 federal jobs or 0.3 — not 1 per cent, 0.3 per cent — of these jobs. Just imagine what relocating 10,000 government jobs, or 3 per cent of the federal public service, would do to the economy of the Atlantic region.

Honourable senators, in no way am I proposing to replace ACOA with the relocation of federal public jobs, but I am insisting that we should have more of both, as does Ontario with its Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, FedNor.

There is no doubt in my mind that the above scenario is a win-win situation for all stakeholders. This scenario is also valid for many other communities across New Brunswick outside the golden triangle of Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John that have a stronger economic base and infrastructure from which to build on.

With the infinite communication outlet we have through high speed Internet, the logic to have the bureaucracy close to the legislative and executive arms of government no longer holds ground. I truly believe that the relocation of federal departments, Crown corporations and agencies should be a government priority.

This chamber should refer Senator Downe's inquiry to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance for immediate study. The immediate study of this inquiry should bring concrete recommendations so as to press the government to accelerate the process of relocating the federal bureaucracy in communities where they would receive an immediate appreciation of their presence, including the direct and indirect repercussions on the fiscal and social economy of those small communities.