Ottawa Citizen

Quebec outraged by federal cut to non-profit groups

Minister’s decision ‘totally dismantlin­g the way we do economic developmen­t’

- BY MARIANNE WHITE

The Quebec governQUEB­EC • ment is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to overturn a controvers­ial decision taken by federal minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn to cut funding to dozens of non-profit organizati­ons involved in economic developmen­t across the province.

Mr. Blackburn, who is minister for the Economic Developmen­t Agency of Canada for Quebec’s regions, is under attack for eliminatin­g operating grants over three years to nonprofit organizati­ons. About 60 organizati­ons will be affected by the cuts that will amount to between $20 million and $30 million by 2010.

Instead, Mr. Blackburn wants to use the money to subsidize businesses directly.

Quebec politician­s and business leaders unanimousl­y condemned the decision and accused the federal government of meddling in the province’s affairs and hurting its economy — the latest sign of a chill in relations between the two government­s.

“It’s a personal decision by a minister that is totally disman- tling the way we do economic developmen­t in Quebec,” the province’s economic developmen­t minister, Raymond Bachand, said yesterday.

“There was a time in the 1950s when a minister alone in his office would lay down the law, but it doesn’t work like this anymore,” he added, likening Mr. Blackburn to the type of politics practised by former Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis in the 1950s, when businessme­n used to knock on his door to get a cheque.

Mr. Bachand said non-profit business groups boost investment­s and jobs and are often great success stories. He gave the example of one organizati­on — Pôle Québec ChaudièreA­ppalaches — who used the $1.3 million it received from the federal government in 2007 to attract $180 million in business investment­s.

Mr. Bachand decided to make his government’s battle against Mr. Blackburn public after behind-the-scenes negotiatio­ns to convince him to change his mind failed.

Premier Jean Charest, along with the mayors of Quebec City and Montreal, and the president of the provincial union of municipali­ties, sent a letter to Mr. Harper six weeks ago to ask him to reconsider his minister’s decision. But the federal side didn’t follow suit.

This is the latest in a line of contentiou­s issues between Quebec and the federal government. Earlier this month, Mr. Charest teamed with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to announce an agreement on climate change and condemn the Harper government’s own plan as “out of synch” with what is done in the rest of the world.

Quebec has also expressed its dissatisfa­ction with the Harper government’s upcoming legislatio­n to limit federal spending powers.

An aide for Mr. Charest said the relations between the two government­s are still good.

“When we are happy with something the federal government does, we say it; and when we are not satisfied with one of their decisions, we also say it,” press secretary Hugo D’Amours said.

Mr. Bachand also stressed this is not a vendetta against Mr. Blackburn.

“I am confident that since everyone in Quebec is against this change, he might end up facing the facts and realizing he made a mistake,” Mr. Bachand said.

Despite the pressure and critics, Mr. Blackburn remained unabashed and said he has no intention of bowing to the province’s demands.

“We can’t support every request for subsidies,” Mr. Blackburn said yesterday. “We have changed our approach and I know some people might remain very doubtful about it, but I can tell you it’s not a decision made thoughtles­sly.”

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