That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately establish a series of measures to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors hard hit by the rising dollar and increased competition from new players in the field of low-cost mass production, specifically including a program to support businesses that wish to update their production facilities, a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development in the industry, the re-establishment of an economic diversification program for forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservatives abolished, a review of the trade laws to better protect our companies against unfair competition, and better financial support of workers affected by the crisis in the manufacturing sector.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
The crisis affecting the forestry and manufacturing sectors is unprecedented. This is, without question, the worst crisis we have ever experienced. All industry stakeholders agree on this. What we need is action. Everyone agrees that the situation cannot go on like this—everyone except the Conservative government. It alone is happy with a laissez-faire approach. It is content to give tax breaks to the rich western oil and gas companies, while Quebec's manufacturing and forestry sectors are facing a crisis.
Here are some facts: since December 31, 2002, 135,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Quebec, which translates into one in five workers. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, 65,000 jobs have been lost. Approximately half of the 275,000 jobs lost in Canada during this period were jobs in Quebec. Every one cent increase in the value of the Canadian dollar against the American dollar threatens 19,000 manufacturing jobs.
Let us now turn to the forestry sector. Between May 2002 and April 2005, a total of 10,000 jobs in the sawmills and paper plants were lost. The forestry sector represents nearly 100,000 jobs in 240 towns and villages in Quebec that are today threatened by decline. The urgent need for action is obvious. Every 1¢ increase represents $500 million in lost revenue for the forestry industry in Canada. The Forest Industry Council estimates the loss at $150 million for Quebec. I repeat: the situation is serious. It threatens the industrial base of our economy. That is why the Bloc Québécois is using this opposition day to remind the Conservative government that urgent action is needed.
We know there are problems. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology spent nearly a year studying various recommendations. It submitted a report in February 2007. After all those hearings, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology made 22 recommendations. Of those 22 recommendations, the Conservative government agreed only to the accelerated capital cost allowance, which actually helps Alberta’s industries and damages Quebec’s economy. As a result, in proposing this motion, the Bloc wants measures to be taken immediately.
We have solutions. We have proposals. The first proposal for solving this crisis is to implement a program to support businesses that wish to update their production facilities. We have to implement a program of loans and loan guarantees to help businesses modernize. We know that these businesses are in bad financial shape. We know how hard they are finding it to borrow on the markets, which means they have to pay a risk premium, and so the interest they pay goes up. The government has to help these businesses. It must guarantee loans for such businesses, so they will be able to update their production facilities, to modernize, and so be able to get through the current crisis.
We are also proposing a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development. The government has to improve the fiscal support provided for research and development and for innovation in business. It has to expand the types of expenditures that are eligible, for example by including the cost of obtaining patents or the cost of training people to work on innovative projects. The government has to make the research and development tax credit a refundable credit. Certainly there is no point in giving tax cuts to businesses that are not making profits. Giving businesses that invest in research and development refundable tax credits, however, is a large part of the solution.
The federal government has to support research; it must cancel the cuts it has made to the Technology Partnerships Canada and instead increase its funding and reinvigorate all of the leading edge sectors that the Conservatives have abandoned. Leading edge sectors like pharmaceuticals, environmental technologies, new materials and new production technologies have been left to their own devices. Contrary to what the government claims, tax cuts are not the solution to every problem.
Another solution would be to bring back an economic diversification program for the forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservative government cut.
As a member from a resource region myself, I know very well what difficulties a region can face when its main source of economic activity disintegrates. The Bloc is going to pay particular attention, therefore, to the resource regions affected by the current crisis in the forest industry which desperately need to diversify their industrial base in order to deal with the situation.
We should bring back a support program to help diversify the regional economies that have been hit hard by the downturn in the forest industry. There should be tax breaks for companies that operate in resource regions. Among other things, we should encourage companies to help skilled workers find employment in the regions. There should be a program to support the production of energy and ethanol from the forest industry's waste.
The cancelled the special program we used to have specifically for the regions affected by the crisis in the forest industry. That is the government’s laissez-faire policy. There was nothing on this in the Speech from the Throne or in the finance minister’s economic statement. There is an urgent need for action.
Our trade legislation also needs to be revised in order to protect our companies better against unfair competition. Canada’s anti-dumping legislation goes back to the days of the cold war and is completely out of touch with the new realities, especially the emerging economies and China. There is an urgent need to put Canadian trade law on the same footing as the trade law of the other industrialized countries, particularly the United States and the countries of the European Union. That is what the hon. member for has proposed in Bill . We will return to that later.
The Conservatives have decided not to make use of the trade legislation that makes it possible to provide temporary protection for our companies and gives them time to adjust to the new realities and modernize. We can only dream of a government with some vision that would protect the jobs in our districts.
The final element is financial support for the workers affected by the crisis in manufacturing. Employment in this sector has been devastated. Some 135,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Quebec, or the equivalent of one worker in five since December 31, 2002. Quebec has been especially hard hit by the slump, and the arrival of the Conservative government has only made things worse. Since January 2006, about 65,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost.
Given the situation, the government must revisit its position on enhancing the employment insurance program. The Bloc has been proposing for years that real improvements be made to the employment insurance program and, in particular, that the benefit period be increased by five weeks for all regions, no matter what the rate of unemployment. Benefits must be increased from 55% to 60% with the calculation based on the 12 best weeks. The qualifying period should be eliminated and the minimum number of insurable hours needed to qualify should be reduced to 360 hours.
Employment insurance is a right, not a privilege. Workers and companies pay for employment insurance. Together, they establish measures to meet needs in the event of difficult times. We are now in difficult times, but the employment insurance program is nowhere in sight. Furthermore, what are we to make of the lack of a program for older workers who have been the victims of massive layoffs? My colleagues will tackle this later. This is a very important element.
The Bloc Québécois is well rooted in its communities. The Bloc Québécois supports Quebeckers, who are seeking solutions and a resolution to this major crisis for Quebec. Therefore, with this opposition day, we must convince the government that there is an urgent need for action. The future of our communities is at stake.
It is very urgent that action be taken and I urge all my colleagues in this House to vote in favour of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to denounce the inability of this government to run this country. It is a useless government, a laissez-faire government. During the next 10 minutes, I will have other terms to describe this Conservative government that is running the country. What good is it to the citizens of Quebec and Canada to have a government that takes a laissez-faire approach and does not actually do anything for them?
It is clear that it is easy for a government to run the country with a budgetary surplus of $20 billion. It is easy to take that money, to spread it around, here and there, to win political advantage. That is easy; anyone can do that.
However, when the time comes to deal with a situation like the one our industry is going through, to propose real solutions to save that industry or to save employees from the loss of their jobs, what does the government do? Absolutely nothing. What has it done lately and in the last few years? It has caused the loss of 135,000 jobs, including 65,000 in Quebec. That is what a Conservative government does: nothing
It reduced the GST by one percent. What does that mean? It means that they have reduced the price of all products, including those coming from China, all those exports that a third country is dumping on us, loading us down with all kinds of products that we cannot compete against. In fact, we cannot specify a price for those products, because the restrictions imposed make it impossible to determine a true price.
So, they reduced the price of products from China by one percent. Then, they found that was not enough; so, what did they do? They lowered the GST by another one percent. Every time they lower the GST by one percent, they lower the price of products. This benefits not consumers but producers. And those producers, in Quebec like elsewhere, produce even more Chinese products. We need to be careful.
What were the Conservatives thinking of when they decided to lower the GST? Of one thing only: consumers will be glad to have one percent more in their pockets. However, the Conservatives do not think any farther than the end of their noses. In fact the end result is just enough for everyone to buy a cup of coffee at the end of the month. I do not think that is the amount of money the Conservatives want to have in their pockets.
What is the second thing that the Conservatives did? They recognized that the industry was not doing well and they agreed to set up a committee that examined the manufacturing sector for almost a year. As my colleague mentioned earlier, 22 recommendations were made. I heard some members say that the Conservatives acted on one of these 22 recommendations. However, they forgot to mention that it was only a partial implementation, not a full one. Indeed, our committee had asked for an accelerated capital cost allowance over a five year period, but the government applied it over two years. It does not listen to anything or anyone. It asks for studies, but once these studies are completed, it simply throws them away, without even looking at them. The government relies on a piecemeal approach, but it does not even bother to take a look at the various aspects.
Sometimes, I wonder whether the has two brains: one that benefits Alberta and the other that takes into account the rest of Canada, including Quebec. Sometimes, I wonder if one of these brains has not gone astray, with the other one looking for it.
Moreover, the government is considering tax cuts for corporations. That is unbelievable. Who is this government trying to buy? Who is it trying to please? Obviously not the companies that are experiencing difficulties, because they do not pay taxes. So, who benefits from this measure? Once again, it is big oil companies and large corporations that are making money. Companies that are making profits do not need tax cuts, since they are already making money. If the government wants to help companies, it should target those that are experiencing difficulties. But the government still does not understand that. In fact, there is a lot that it does not understand.
From the time we started seeing the loss of jobs here and there each week, it seems to me that it should have understood. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of complaints from people in the territory of the former industry minister complaining about the government’s inertia. From one end of Canada to the other, we hear people wondering where these Conservative MPs are. They have plugged their ears. I cannot understand how they can do absolutely nothing.
Then, when they talk about tax cuts to help consumers, what do they try to do? They try to buy votes. That is what they are trying to do—buy votes with a $20 billion surplus. That is not the way to help the economy. They are not helping the economy. This tax cut has to show up not only in consumers’ pockets, but also in the Canadian, the Quebec, economy. That is where we need to see it.
Why do I say that? On the one hand, taxes are being lowered, sure. On the other, the Canadian dollar is fluctuating while the American dollar remains stable or decreases. We read in the newspapers that people who save money on their taxes will use it to go shopping in the United States.
What was this government thinking? I do not know. I do not understand, because the economy that should be encouraged should be our own. But now taxes are being cut to encourage the American economy. That does not make any sense. What is this government’s reasoning? I do not know. Where did it get this idea? I do not know that either, but it should switch advisers. No argument could convince me that this is one of the best things it has done to boost the economy. It is not boosting it; it is only making it worse. There is nothing good about it.
What is this government doing? Every time it does something, it is to win votes in the next election. This is not what they should be doing. Jobs are being lost and it is time to work on keeping them. But the government is still not doing anything. I look forward to the time when they wake up and decide to do something intelligent. But I do not think that will happen. I am discouraged. We have to take up a supply day to try and get through to the MPs of a government that claims to promote good governance. Let me think about that for a second. This government is promoting good governance but only for itself and its lobby.
What is more, as I said, industry is the one to profit from the tax reduction. If memory serves, the figure for the reduction for all Canadian oil companies is $40 million. Really now. Those companies have already been gifted with $250 million. Where will it end? When there are no industries left in Quebec? This is an important sector of the economy of Quebec, the one on which the livelihood of just about everyone in Quebec depends. And yet, what is being done about it? Not a thing.
From where I sit, this looks like an attempt to sell us out to the United States. If our money ends up in the States with cross-border shoppers, there will be no economy left over here. The government must stop thinking that this will sort itself out on its own, because it will not.
Another thing. Again, going by the figures given, I have heard at one point that the Conservative government had given $37 million to Canadian industry. That is $37 million out of $20 billion! Does the government think that is enough to save industry? The members of this government are totally oblivious. They see nothing. There is no future for them in politics. There is no future for industry. I do not know what is going to be done, but the government will have to get a grip, or jobs and industries will be lost in Quebec. If nothing is done to improve the industrial situation, things will keep on going in the same way. Nothing has been done to improve the industrial situation—absolutely nothing! I keep on saying this because I am convinced of it. What else could I say, Mr. Speaker?
We believe there are ways. We are not here just to complain.
We are here to present recommendations, to tell them what they need to do, since they are incapable of coming up with their own ideas.
There are recommendations for loans and loan guarantees to encourage investment, industrial modernization and updating of production facilities. This seems clear to me. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If they have not, we will know what conclusion to reach about them.
There have been program cuts. How many programs has the Conservative government cut back? Then they realize that the cuts were in the wrong place and the program needs to be reinstated. So they do so, under a new name. This is the kind of party that bankrupts itself and then starts up again under another name in order to look good. I for one have had enough of people who just do not think.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond to the question asked by the member for concerning the forest industry and what the government is doing to help that industry.
As stated in the recent Speech from the Throne, the government will stand up for Canada's traditional industries, including forestry, which are currently being challenged. Our government has taken action to support workers as these industries adjust to global conditions and will continue to do so.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The hon. member for is right to point out that the forest industry is facing numerous problems. That is a reality. Indeed, these problems include high fibre costs, falling U.S. demand, the rise in the value of the Canadian dollar, and increased energy and production costs.
I would like to remind my colleagues that in the 2006 budget the Government of Canada announced an investment of $400 million over two years to strengthen the long term competitiveness of the forestry sector, a key sector, and to promote worker adjustment among other things; hardly laissez-faire.
I would also like to take this opportunity to once again remind my colleagues of the wide ranging benefits of the 2006 softwood lumber agreement to the Quebec forestry sector, an agreement which was supported and continues to be supported by the provinces and by industry.
Thanks to the efforts of our government an agreement was concluded with the United States, an agreement that received the support of Quebec and of the other major softwood producing provinces in Canada. In addition, this agreement also enjoyed the support of a clear majority of the industry players.
During the negotiations with the United States we worked very hard and we worked cooperatively with the province of Quebec, as well as the other provinces and the forest industry to take their interests into account. It is in the spirit of this agreement that the agreement stands as a clear reflection of those collaborative efforts.
Second, it is important to note that the agreement returned duties collected by the United States and ended all litigation. On that point, it should be noted that Quebec has received over $1 billion of the $5 billion returned to the Canadian industry.
The return of these funds marks a significant infusion of capital into the industry and was a benefit to workers and communities across Canada. It has helped industry weather these difficult times marked in particular by a sagging U.S. housing market.
In addition to the fact that the agreement allows Quebec to safeguard the management of its forests, it provides at least seven years of stability to the softwood lumber industry. In addition, as provided for in the agreement, border measures will not apply to softwood lumber exports from 32 countries which include all of the Quebec border mills.
The agreement also prohibits the United States from taking trade remedy action for the life of the agreement, thereby protecting our exporters from the unpredictable and crippling U.S. trade action which in the past saw duties rise to as high as 27%.
The government is not operating alone on this issue. The government has continued to consult very closely with industry and provincial officials. Federal officials continue to hold one on one and industry group meetings with forestry companies to understand their needs and their concerns. In addition, federal and provincial government officials meet regularly to discuss matters related to the implementation of the agreement and to the state of the industry.
The result of this close stakeholder collaboration on the softwood lumber agreement was and is the single best way forward for this industry and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians in communities that rely on it every day.
I can also reassure my colleague from that the Government of Canada has continued to work rigorously on this file, well beyond last year's coming into force of the agreement. The softwood lumber agreement establishes a formal institutional framework for the governments of Canada and the United States to manage the softwood lumber file and to address issues that arise over the life of the agreement.
The agreement provides for the establishment of a softwood lumber committee to supervise the implementation of the agreement, oversee its further elaboration, supervise the working groups established under the agreement and consider other matters that might affect its operation.
In exercising its functions, the committee is encouraged to establish and delegate responsibilities to working groups or expert groups, and to seek expert advice as is necessary. Indeed, at its 2007 inaugural meetings, the softwood lumber committee established five working groups to address both technical subjects, such as data and reconciliation, permits and customs issues and scope issues, and also longer term policy issues identified in the softwood lumber agreement such as regional policy exits and lumber made from logs harvested from private lands and log export restraints.
The committee has now met twice, most recently a couple of weeks ago in Ottawa, helping to ensure that implementation and administration of the agreement proceeds effectively, efficiently and smoothly, thereby providing benefits to industry.
Moreover, as the hon. member for is undoubtedly aware, the softwood lumber agreement also established mechanisms to assist the lumber industry reap the benefits of the highly integrated nature of the North American economy. An example of such mechanisms is the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, which is comprised of 12 industry representatives from both sides of the border and whose primary focus is increasing cooperation between the United States and the Canadian softwood lumber industry.
One of the key objectives of the Binational Softwood Lumber Council is to strengthen and expand the market for softwood lumber products in an effort to make North America's lumber industry more competitive over the longer term.
An equally important objective of the council is to build stronger cross-border partnerships and to create a climate of trust at all levels of the industry. We are not so much competing against one another as we are building things together in these two countries. These are essential elements for any industry striving to operate successfully in today's highly integrated global economy.
We understand that the forestry sector is undergoing difficult times. The reality is that North America has a highly interdependent lumber market. Its current weak condition has been caused by a decline in the U.S. housing market, around 30% year over year, which has reduced demand for wood products.
As I mentioned at the start, we are also, as we know, facing a rising Canadian dollar and stiffer competition from emerging markets that have lower fibre production costs. These factors have resulted in a far worse impact on the lumber industry and would have resulted in a far worse impact on the lumber industry in the absence of a softwood lumber agreement. The return of $5 billion has helped companies weather the current difficulties.
The government continues to listen to the concerns of our forestry communities. We are working together to develop solutions to the problems that they are facing.
As we have always maintained, both Canada and the United States have an interest in ensuring that the agreement operates smoothly and will continue to work closely with forestry stakeholders to achieve this goal. We should never forget that we are one another's most important commercial partners. The $1.7 billion worth of trade that flows across our border each and every day attests to that fact. In fact, that nearly all of this trade is able to move with very few disputes is an accomplishment in itself.
Through the assistance of the Trade Commissioner Service and our embassies abroad, the government is working with the Canadian forestry industry to find new trade opportunities in foreign markets. Every day our trade commissioners overseas find new buyers and communicate new trade deals to the Canadian forestry and wood products industry.
In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has provided funding support to the sector in its efforts to undertake various international business development initiatives through the program for export market development for trade associations.
As I just highlighted, mechanisms established by the agreement to assist the lumber industry exist through the work of the Binational Softwood Lumber Council. It is important that industry stakeholders on both sides of the border work together to look at new and innovative ways to confront the challenges that the industry is currently facing. The agreement and the work of the Binational Softwood Lumber Council is facilitating this dialogue, which can help create an environment within which the softwood lumber industry can prosper; an industry that is important for so many workers, communities and families across this great country.
The softwood lumber agreement is a good reminder of how Canada and the U.S. can work through our own domestic challenges, turn our focus to creating a more competitive North American lumber industry, and work together to find new outlets for North American lumber in world markets. The SLA has been, and continues to be, a positive factor for the Quebec forest industry and the communities that derive their livelihoods from it.
While recognizing the current challenges faced by the forestry sector, there is no doubt that this agreement has benefited the provinces and their forestry stakeholders by providing lumber producers with a return of duties, putting an end to longstanding litigation, and providing predictability and stability that has eluded the sector for far too long.
I will conclude by saying that this government will continue to keep an open dialogue with the forest industry and with provinces to ensure a prosperous and long-lasting agreement that is to the benefit of Quebeckers and all Canadians involved in the forestry sector.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak today about what the government has done and is continuing to do to support the Canadian forest products sector.
The forest products sector is a dynamic contributor to the Canadian economy, generating some $80 billion annually. It also accounts for 3% of gross domestic product. Canada is the largest exporter of forest products in the world, and the most efficient. This sector is also one of the largest employers in Canada. It provides close to 900,000 direct and indirect jobs in 300 small localities and rural communities from Newfoundland and Labrador to Vancouver Island. These are well-paid jobs, characterized by high technology and strong productivity.
However, members on both sides of the House know that this sector is facing some serious problems. The world forest products market is fluctuating along with demand. The sector is prey to considerable pressures due to the rising value of the Canadian dollar, high energy costs, the mountain pine beetle infestation in western Canada, and competition from low-wage producers in Asia and South America.
The sector and the government have to work together to ensure that Canadian producers remain competitive. For its part, the sector has embraced new technologies, sped up productivity growth, adopted environmentally friendly practices at the international level, opened new markets and created new products. It knows that to remain a leader it must be at least as effective as all of its competitors worldwide in adopting new ideas and technologies.
In promoting competition, innovation and success, the government is now creating a healthy commercial environment for all industries, including that of forest products.
We are doing this within the framework of Advantage Canada, our strategic economic plan directly based on the challenges facing all industrial sectors. In continuing to reduce taxes and red tape, in building modern infrastructure and in encouraging a more qualified and educated work force, we are laying the foundations for economic growth, more market opportunities and more choices, for individuals as well as businesses.
Complementing Advantage Canada, our government has recently launched consultations on ways of making the tax incentive program for scientific research and experimental development more effective for Canadian companies, and of allowing it to play an even more important role in promoting a more competitive and prosperous economy.
We are streamlining the review of major natural resource development projects and reducing red tape and regulatory burden for businesses. We are investing in human resources, skills and training so that manufacturers can have access to the most educated, skilled and flexible manpower in the world. We are investing in our infrastructure so that manufacturers can take advantage of economic opportunities in Canada and abroad.
Budget 2006 gave an economic boost to manufacturers and to all Canadians. Budget 2007 continues on this path. We eliminated the federal capital tax, we reduced the small business tax rate and we enhanced the capital cost allowance, with a two-year deductible for tools and equipment, in order to stimulate cash flow and investment. We did not stop there. This government just provided its support to Canadian manufacturers and processors with a tax relief of $2.6 billion in the economic statement.
Through our new tax reduction initiative, Canada will have the lowest general tax rate on new business investments by 2011 and the lowest statutory tax rate by 2012 among G-7 countries. This will increase productivity, stimulate employment and improve prosperity.
The government is clearly working on creating a favourable environment for all industries. We are doing the same thing for the forest product industry. We have taken measures that are aimed specifically at supporting that industry.
During the fall of 2006, Canada and the United States eliminated one of the biggest obstacles this industry had ever faced, namely the softwood lumber dispute. Less than nine months after coming to power, the government kept its promise and resolved this longstanding dispute.
The softwood lumber agreement finally put an end to years of costly litigation and brought economic certainty to businesses, communities and workers in Canada. It allowed our softwood lumber producers to recover over $5 billion Canadian in deposits, which represents a considerable injection of capital for the industry.
The resolution of the softwood lumber dispute clearly shows our government's commitment to this industry.
Canadians asked our government to negotiate a settlement that would provide stability to the industry and that would protect the livelihoods of workers, communities and families in Quebec and Canada.
In addition to the resolution of this dispute that went on for several decades, the government announced, in the 2006 budget, a $400 million investment to support the long term competitiveness of the forestry sector, to address the pine beetle infestation in western Canada and to facilitate worker adjustment.
We are also honouring the following commitments. Last fall, that is in October 2006, the government announced a new shared-cost program with the provinces and territories: the targeted initiative for older workers. This two-year program is aimed at helping up to 10,000 older workers who have lost their jobs in communities where the local economy is plagued by chronic unemployment or where industries, such as forestry, are affected by downsizing and closures.
This year, our government announced measures aimed at reducing the pine beetle infestation and its impact on forests and communities in British Columbia. Developed in collaboration with the Government of British Columbia, the global strategy against this infestation includes measures to prevent it from spreading east and to help affected communities in developing new forest products, markets, sectors and services, in order to insure their long-term economic well-being.
We have also announced $127.5 million in funding to help the forestry sector increase its productivity in the long term. The initiatives—promoting forest innovation and investment, expanding market opportunities, establishing a new national pest strategy and creating a Human Resource Forest Sector Council—will help build the environment we need for our forestry sector to compete internationally.
Our government has supported and will continue to support the forestry sector in Canada. The Speech from the Throne highlighted the continuous commitment of our government toward supporting the main traditional industries in Canada, including the forest industry as well as manufacturing, fishing and tourism.
As I said, we have helped workers in these industries from the beginning of our mandate and we will continue to do so, as evidenced by the measures we have taken so far and those which we will be implementing in the future. It is clear for Canadians and it should be clear for the members opposite as well. Actions speak louder than just words.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
It is with pleasure that I rise to speak to this extremely important motion regarding an extremely important issue. The manufacturing and forestry sectors are facing immense challenges today. The rapid ascension of the Canadian dollar or perhaps the depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the rapidity of its decline have contributed to that, but there are also long term competitiveness issues and productivity issues that are extremely important for the entire industrial sector.
I will focus part of my comments on the unique challenges of the maritime lumber industry in my region of the country. Clearly, there are challenges in my region where we have a market flooded with cheap lumber that is coming from British Columbia, which is partly the result of the clear-cutting that is occurring in British Columbia as a result of the mountain pine beetle. What was originally a natural disaster has become an economic disaster for other parts of the country. We have the decline of the U.S. housing market and its impact on Canadian lumber exports, and of course, there is the rising dollar and energy prices. Our production costs are higher and the competitiveness of our product is declining.
Some producers in my riding have said that the price they can get for their finished product in some cases is actually cheaper than what it costs for them to buy logs for their raw material. In fact, the U.S. lumber producers in Maine are now exporting lumber into Atlantic Canada.
Of 92 mills operating in the three maritime provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, 22 have produced no lumber since January 2007, and 18 more have announced permanent, indefinite or temporary shutdowns. Only 16 mills are operating near capacity and they are mostly smaller producers for local markets. The rest are cutting production. To date, 1,249 employees have been laid off in the maritime lumber industry. This information is updated on an ongoing basis and in fact, there have been more shutdowns since last month. If this trend continues, by December 31, 2008 the industry will be operating at 50% of 2006 production.
It is cold comfort to the industry to have the government say that somehow the U.S. softwood lumber agreement that the government signed in its early days is a panacea to all the challenges faced by the Canadian lumber industry. The lumber agreement with the U.S. administration at that time was more about getting photo ops for the Conservative government than it was about getting real long term results for Canadian lumber interests.
It is really important to recognize the importance of supporting communities affected by the decline in the lumber industry. The first thing that ought to be done is the re-establishment of the economic diversification program for forestry regions. The Liberal government's forestry strategy in 2005 committed $1.5 billion to support the industry, including money for companies to invest in research and development, and a five year national forest community adjustment fund designed to help diversify economies for forestry dependent communities in decline.
Those programs were cut and slashed by the Conservative laissez-faire government that cared more about rigid ideology than in helping Canadian communities. It is the same government that has cut labour market agreements with many Canadian provinces. Those labour market agreements were there to help workers, whether in the forestry sector or in the manufacturing sector, who found themselves in industries in decline and in transition. They were benefiting from those labour market agreements but the government cut them at a critical time.
The challenges faced by the lumber industry in the maritimes are different from other parts of the country because the industry has a different ownership makeup in terms of forest lands and woodlands. It is really important that members of Parliament realize that while some of the conditions in the maritimes are different, the challenges being faced by the maritime lumber industry are severe. The Conservative government is ignoring the maritime lumber industry and has failed to defend its interests just as severely as it has failed to defend the interests of the forestry industry in Quebec and across the country.
On the manufacturing sector side, it is clear that the government's accelerated capital cost allowance, which applies over a two year period, needs to be applied over a five year period. The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association has called for that. It has said that companies do not make long term production enhancement equipment purchase decisions overnight. For an accelerated capital cost allowance to actually make a difference it needs to be over a five year period not over a two year period. We have called on the government repeatedly to implement the accelerated capital cost allowance over a five year period which would help provide a stronger partnership with Canadian manufacturers to help them invest in the productivity enhancement they need.
Furthermore, in terms of research and development and commercialization activities that can help Canadian manufacturers compete and succeed globally in a hyper-competitive environment, the government ought to reform its SR and ED program. This program has helped Canadian companies and manufacturers involved in industries as diverse as biotech to clean tech and manufacturers that are themselves making these kinds of investments.
One change that could be made to broaden and strengthen the impact of the SR and ED program would be to increase the annual R and D expenditure limit, which was established initially in 1985 pre-NAFTA, from its current level of $2 million to $10 million and adjust the taxable capital threshold from $10 million to $50 million. That would make a huge difference for a lot of Canadian manufacturing companies and other firms involved in research and development and commercialization.
Another change would be the removal of the current CCPC restriction on the SR and ED program for refundable credits while maintaining eligibility requirements. This would make a difference in terms of taxable income and taxable capital thresholds.
Infrastructure investment, particularly transportation infrastructure, is critically important. The Liberal government that I was part of had made a significant investment in the Pacific Gateway. The Conservative government has continued with that investment but has actually reduced the level of the investment that our government had initially made. The Pacific Gateway is part of it.
With respect to the Atlantic Gateway, the government recently announced some sort of exchange of letters or memorandums of understanding, but that is not good enough. The government should be moving more quickly to establish and strengthen trade routes along both the eastern seaboard and Atlantic Canada.
The government needs to earmark more resources for Ontario's aging infrastructure, particularly the Windsor-Detroit crossing, and it needs to make this crossing a higher priority. I read an article in today's Toronto Star entitled, “Chrysler CEO pleads case for new Windsor crossing”. All stakeholders need to be engaged in this. We need to see the government take action and commit the resources required.
According to the Canadian-American Business Council, insufficient infrastructure, coupled with onerous paperwork, are creating a competitive disadvantage for businesses on both sides of the border. Today, with the importance of rapid transportation of parts and materials in manufacturing, it is critically important that the Canadian and U.S. borders work efficiently and effectively. The government needs to make those kinds of investments, which would be far more effective investments that we could actually use, than cutting the GST, which does not benefit productivity, does not enhance manufacturing competitiveness and does not help create jobs for Canadian workers.
Mr. Speaker, the general point is that the government has its head in the sand when it comes to the implications of this very high dollar for jobs in tourism, jobs in manufacturing and jobs in forestry. We have had lay offs recently. A couple of weeks ago, 1,100 jobs were lost at Chrysler. I think it was last week that 800 jobs were lost in forestry. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.
If the currency is maintained at, near or above parity in a sustained fashion there will be many hundreds of thousands of lay offs coming down the road.
The government is constrained and blinkered by its ideology on this matter. It sees no role for government in dealing with this impending crisis resulting from the dollar at over parity.
Perhaps the is focused on Calgary where everything is going well because it is the oil industry that is driving the high dollar. However, in Ontario, in Quebec and across the country, jobs in the hundreds of thousands are threatened by the high dollar. The government is not just doing nothing for ideological reasons, it is doing worse than nothing. It is wounding these key industries when they are already wounded.
The Bloc motion says that we should reinstate a forest region economic diversification program modelled on the one the Conservative government eliminated. This is another way of saying that it wants the same program as the one that the Liberal government had introduced and that the Conservative government has abolished.
I will say a few words later about this program, which the Bloc wants reinstated and which the NDP I am sure would like as well had it not decided to bring down the government in 2006. The Conservatives have damaged the forest industry by destroying this program.
The Conservatives have damaged the auto industry with the silly, ridiculous feebate program, which hurts our industry and jobs. They have damaged it through the Korea free trade deal, which in its present form does nothing on non-tariff barriers and further hurts the domestic industry. They have not invested a penny in Canada's auto sector whereas the former Liberal government invested some $300 million.
The Conservatives further wounded the forestry sector. They have further wounded the auto sector. They further wounded the tourist industry.
The tourist industry is in terrible shape because Americans no longer come here because of the high dollar. What did the Conservatives do? They took away the visitor GST rebate just at the moment when the industry needed it.
As a consequence of the total destruction of Canada-China relations, China has not granted approved destination status to Canada. China has granted that to 80 other countries, so it is hardly a selective measure. However, the government has destroyed the China relationship to the point where we are denied this and therefore have been denied hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists who would otherwise come to Canada.
It is not just that the Conservatives have done nothing. They looked at these key industries when they were down and inflicted further wounds on them, in forestry, in the auto sector and in tourism. They are beyond the pale, they have done nothing and have proposed nothing to help these industries.
The Conservatives have refused, for example, to implement the five year period, which everybody else is asking for, including the industry committee, for the accelerated capital cost allowance program in manufacturing and processing. I believe there were 22 recommendations in the industry committee report, which were unanimous from all parties. It is an excellent report and Conservatives have implemented only a small part of one of the recommendations and not the remaining 21.
Let me say a few words about the Liberal program for the forestry industry, which the Bloc indirectly praised in its motion. I will tell members what it would have done. Then I will ask the members of the Bloc and the NDP whether they would not have liked this program.
The consequence of the NDP bringing down the government in 2006 was not only that we did not get the child care program, not only we did not get the Kelowna agreement for aboriginal people, but also we did not get the $1.3 billion program that would have provided terrific assistance to the forestry program, which is in desperate need of it as we speak. Let us consider the elements.
First, we had $150 million to support workers and communities. Is this not exactly what the Bloc is asking now?
What about the $150 million to support workers and communities? Would the NDP not like that? That is what we had until the government scrapped it, and we should not hold our breath for the government to re-establish such a program.
Second, there is the $215 million innovative processing technology. Is this not what needs the forest industry in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada?
Does the NDP not like the idea of $215 million for a transformative technology program that would provide material assistance to the forest industry and to all the workers in the forest industry, who are at risk of being laid off? This would provide hope for communities, hope for the industry, hope for the employees, hope that is being dashed by the government's extreme laissez-faire policy, aided and abetted by the NDP.
Third, for forest innovation and value added products, the total is $90 million.
Are growing wood markets not important? Do we not need new markets for our wood? China was one example. Good luck in the Chinese market with the current government.
The former Liberal government had committed $66 million for growing wood markets, $10 million for raising skill levels and $50 million for support for bioenergy, precisely all the things that are needed by the forest industry today.
All these things that the Bloc Québécois is now asking for were there, but they were cancelled by the behaviour of the Bloc and the NDP in 2006.
In conclusion, I will simply make the basic point that if the dollar stays where it is, we have an emerging jobs crisis, and the layoffs we have seen recently are merely the tip of the iceberg. These layoffs are not just statistics; these are family members and friends of Canadians across the country.
The government, through its extraordinarily laissez-faire approach, has not only done nothing to address this problem, it has wounded these key industries at their moment of extreme weakness. I credit the NDP and the Bloc, in part, with the crisis facing the forest industry. By bringing down the previous Liberal government, they caused the cancellation of some $1.3 billion that would otherwise be flowing to the forest industry today and supporting the communities, the people and the jobs that are so dependent on forestry.
Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to my friend from Markham. He and I have had this debate several times and this gives us an opportunity.
First, I have two simple questions. One is with regard to the capital cost allowance.
As an old-time banker, my friend from Markham realizes that in order to take advantage of the capital cost allowance in any business venture, there have to be profits. In order to have profits, there has to be a good business climate, and that seems to have been lacking in the forestry business for the last several years.
The Liberal government started the negotiations with Korea I think in 2005, so maybe he would like to respond to that. We just concluded it.
With regard to the Liberal program in forestry, his numbers are wrong. He stated it was $1.3 billion. It was really $1.4 billion, of which $800 million would go to aid the softwood lumber industries across the country.
As we know, there were $5 billion on deposit in the United States. As a former banker, my colleague realizes that banks like to see a flow of money through the till in order to pay off obligations. Most of these companies were being wiped out because of lack of cashflow because they were paying the softwood lumber duty.
Out of that $1.4 billion, $800 million were to go immediately to the softwood lumber industries in the whole country, which would have helped them carry on with their businesses. The other $600 million were to go to the economic development agencies, ACOA, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, which we are debating today, FedNor and Western Economic Diversification. That would have been primarily to help the industries in those particular sections under debate today.
The Liberals did not do it. They had the opportunity to pass it. Would my friend answer why it was not passed? That forced this government to come in with the legislation the brought in as soon as the Conservatives formed the government.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I rise in support of this important motion on the manufacturing sector and the impact of the high Canadian dollar on this sector. What we have today is a full-fledged crisis in the manufacturing sector in this country. Over the past 10 years, we have seen Canada go from a $12 billion trade surplus in manufacturing to a $16 billion trade deficit. We have seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Hundreds more are lost each day.
Our manufacturing in Canada as a share of our overall economy has fallen by about 25% in the last 10 years, yet a large sector of our economy has depended on manufacturing, with its one in eight jobs, work for more than 2.4 million Canadians overall. This is a key sector of the economy.
Let us look at our country's history. Canadians were seen as hewers of wood and drawers of water. It was through enormous effort and collective will as a country that we decided we could do more, that yes, we were blessed with abundant natural resources, which were a key part of our economy, but that it was in the interests of all Canadians for us to add value to those natural resources, to add value so that not only would we take fish from the sea, but we would process those fish. We would not simply extract minerals out of the earth; we would process those minerals. Not only would we have an abundant agricultural sector, but we would process food for our own domestic use and export abroad.
Most importantly, we would add value in the manufacturing sector and we would become key suppliers to the world of certain key products. As we have seen, in many sectors of the economy Canada has excelled. It did not happen by accident. It was a project of our parents and grandparents to create a vibrant manufacturing sector in this country.
What we are seeing of late, through a variety of factors, and I will talk about that in a minute, is the erosion of this manufacturing sector. I ask my colleagues in the House how we are going to have a healthy economy and the tax base to support our social programs, our infrastructure and all that we value in this country if we lose our valuable, vibrant and lucrative manufacturing sector. It is a huge concern.
I want to add some more statistics in terms of job loss in this sector. Let us look at certain areas. In clothing and textiles, we have lost 40% of those sectors. We have lost 16% of the aerospace sector, 32% of our shipbuilding sector, 13% of the Canadian food and beverage sector, 13% of the country's primary metals, 9% of paper, 8% of wood products and 7% of our automotive sector. These indicate a huge loss of jobs and huge numbers of families today are living in great insecurity.
These losses are spread across the country. Nova Scotia is down in manufacturing by 20%. In the Kootenay region in B.C., it is down by 25%. British Columbia lost 13,700 jobs. We see that right across the country there is a huge loss in our manufacturing sector. I know that my own city of Toronto has lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs. This has caused a huge impact on many families in that area.
Let us look at the causes. This motion identifies the high dollar. Clearly, the high dollar is an urgent and devastating cause of job loss and stress on any sector of our economy that exports or relies on foreign investment, such as the tourism sector and our cultural sector. Our high dollar is having a huge impact.
As the member does in the motion, I also want to identify free trade and poorly negotiated trade deals as one of the problems. The previous government initiated a number of free trade deals. It initiated the current deal with Korea, which the government is continuing, whereby we already have a massive trade deficit. Our auto trade deficit, for example, now totals $1.7 billion, and today we are losing thousands of jobs in Canada because of this trade deficit with Korea, yet the previous government believed and the current government believes that we should just continue to export jobs to other countries like Korea without requiring balanced trade here in Canada.
We have also seen the previous government and the current government give carte blanche to companies in corporate tax cuts, with no strings attached and no requirement for these tax dollars to be invested back into the community in job creation and R and D. It is just a gift to companies, some of which, such as the banks and the oil and gas sector, are phenomenally profitable as they stand now and certainly do not need the gift of tax breaks that will fuel further upward pressure on the dollar. It is a fiscal policy that has also threatened our manufacturing sector.
The current government has continued this tax cutting agenda and seems to ignore the manufacturing crisis in the country. It is also ignoring what this means for workers who are losing their jobs and what that means to families.
When I raise this issue in the House in question period, the answer I get is that there are jobs being created across Canada, but if we look at what happens to people who lose jobs in the manufacturing sector, jobs that pay decent wages and have benefits which will help them support themselves and their families, we will see that often the jobs they end up with in exchange are jobs with low pay, insecure jobs and service sector jobs. They are not the kinds of jobs that allow them to live above the poverty line. That is a reason why I also have introduced a bill calling for a national minimum wage to be set at $10 a hour.
Another factor for people losing their jobs today in the manufacturing sector is the erosion of our employment insurance program. The previous government took billions of dollars paid in premiums by working people and employers, premiums that ought to have been given back to working people in benefits when they became unemployed. It failed to do that.
Today in my city of Toronto, only about 20% of unemployed workers get employment insurance. This means that 80% of working people are paying into a program but are not able to get the benefits when they need them.
We have an urgent manufacturing crisis in the country. It is critical not just for those who work in the manufacturing sector but for all of us right across the country. This is a high tech, high value added sector that is important to the overall strength of our economy. No other country in the world just throws open the doors and says, “Let the market decide”. All countries defend their manufacturing sector. They want to see further investment. They want to strengthen their manufacturing sector for the good of their populations.
Therefore, I support the motion. I urge its adoption.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate about the problem of plant closures in Canada, whether in the forestry industry or the textile industry.
The Conservative Party likes to boast about how the unemployment rate is the lowest in the last 30 years. There is a problem, though. The unemployment rate may be at its lowest, but it does not tell us how many people are having to work three jobs to earn enough money to support their families. They have to work in one restaurant during the day, in another restaurant in the evening and in yet another on the weekend. The Conservative Party never talks about the fact that families have lost good jobs and found themselves with minimum-wage jobs instead.
It would be interesting to do a study. The government has the resources to do it; it had a $14 billion surplus last year. It should do a study to find out where the jobs went. I am sure that they did not all go to Alberta, to Fort McMurray, or “Fort MakeMoney”, as it is called. No, they have been transformed into jobs that pay low wages, so people have to have two or three jobs. We can indeed say that the unemployment rate has fallen; however, we must also look at the incomes that families are earning.
In recent years—and this started while the Liberal Party was in government—we have had the softwood lumber problem. For years, until this problem was settled with the United States, it handicapped and hurt forestry companies. When the Conservatives came to power, they decided that $4 billion would do the job, even though the Americans owed us $5 billion. So we lost $1 billion to the Americans. That is just fine, because we have piles of money in Canada and we are drowning in surpluses. Rather than invest that money in infrastructure in our towns and villages, the Conservative government hands it over to the Americans, to the tune of $1 billion, no problem. And then they think they have solved the problem. But they have not solved it, because the companies were affected after that.
For example, in my riding, in October 2005 when the Smurfit-Stone company closed down in Bathurst, as it did in New Richmond, jobs were lost and that really hurt the communities. These were jobs in a paper mill that had been in Bathurst for at least 100 years. It was formerly operated by Consolidated-Bathurst. It had been there for many years.
One of the problems that arose was because Canada and governments had not been vigilant in the past when it came to the freedom to sell our companies to foreign businesses. For example, one company was sold to an American business, Stone, which was then bought by Smurfit, which ultimately became Smurfit-Stone. All of a sudden, one fine day in New York, in their administrative offices, the directors of that company said to themselves that they had enough production, and looked at the map and decided to close the paper mills in Bathurst and New Richmond, period. It is over, we are cleaning house.
They send the timber harvested in the forests to another company that is foreign-owned. Take, for example, UPM which bought the Miramichi company. The timber harvest goes to Miramichi. That was when the UPM plant decided to closes its door for 9 to 12 months. Six hundred employees were laid off for 9 to 12 months. Now, we learn that the timber has been loaded on boats at Belledune and sent to Finland because Russia is refusing to provide wood to Finland. And we are the ones who are paying the price. We can see why Canadian companies have closed: foreign companies look after their own country first.
I personally wrote a letter to the of Canada and to the asking them what our Liberal colleague from had asked earlier: should there not be a summit meeting to discuss the situation? I also wrote to the premier of New Brunswick, Shawn Graham, a Liberal, to ask the same thing: Why do you not bring all the players together around the same table; industry, unions, governments and people in the region? I suggested to them that they should bring these people together around a table so they could discuss this major problem.
I was not very proud of the reply from the premier of New Brunswick. He replied that we are lucky to have those companies because otherwise it would be worse. Close the plant, take the wood and ship it to Finland. Could it be worse than that? It is shameful and scandalous that we have lost our jobs.
Moreover, we are losing our resources that are being sent to foreign countries. It is not enough that they come in and close our companies; in addition, they say that if we want to buy their companies, we must not compete with them. How can a paper company not compete with another paper company? They come and tell us that it is closed and to forget them. That is what they told us.
Finland is not the only place that wood from New Brunswick is being sent. It is also going to Chicago. During my tour, I went to Hearst and Kapuskasing, in Ontario, where the same problem exists. They are closing the sawmills; the wood goes to the United States and they lose their wood. I am certain that the same thing happens in Quebec and that the wood is going elsewhere.
The government is not proactive. It is doing absolutely nothing to stop this. The only thing they tell us is that it could be worse.
Last week, this is what we learned about a textile company in New Brunswick. The company is Fils Fins Atlantique of Pokemouche in the riding of and Atholville in the Restigouche area. It employs about 300 people. This company does business with South America, which imposes a 15% tax. With the dollar now so high, and with the 15% tax, it cannot make ends meet. The industry and the unions are asking for an agreement to remove that 15% and to have a bilateral agreement—that was already negotiated some time ago but has never been signed—to help the company to find new jobs. How many textile companies have also closed in Quebec? They are closing everywhere.
The Conservative government has the nerve to boast to us that Canada's economy is strong. I can state that the economy is not doing that well in rural areas and in regions, like ours, where there is practically no more fishery. That is also the case in the Acadian peninsula and in southeastern New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia. The forestry sector is closing down because of foreign companies that buy our companies, then close their doors and distribute or ship our wood to their own countries.
The federal government is doing absolutely nothing. The Liberal government with its 13 years in power has nothing to brag about either. This story about not being in power because the NDP made the government fall is old hat now. They are not in power because Canadians threw them out. They were involved in scandals, they stole money from the public and that is why they got rid of them. It was the public who did that, not the NDP. The people were given the opportunity to vote and they booted them out. They had 13 years to settle our problems in our regions.
The Conservatives have nothing to brag about. On their watch, there have been closures of sawmills, paper mills, textile mills all over in the rural regions, once after the other. Furthermore, it is not true that all our people want to go to Alberta, even if a number of them do so to get work. People move to the west, to Saskatchewan, to the Northwest Territories, although they want to be back home. They have families and they would like to be able to work at home. What is more, they deserve to be able to do so.
I am asking the government to get all the players into the game, to set up a strategy and not to put it off until next year. How can we stem the flow of closures and sales of our Canadian companies? Perhaps by handing them over to our local people? Perhaps a movement should be started up to form cooperatives and to hand them over to people in the regions with the ability to handle their own production. We ought to be able to create jobs in our regions rather than watching businesses close one after the other. Governments try to boast about their good track record, but there are places out there where things are not working out. In some parts of Canada, the rural areas have been forgotten.
It is to be hoped that measures will be put in place to help those who have lost jobs, whether at Fils Fins, in the forest industry or in some other sector.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Chambly-Borduas.
Why are we debating this motion on the manufacturing sector today? Because the Bloc Québécois decided that it could not accept the fact that the finance minister's economic statement had nothing to say about the manufacturing and forestry crisis in Canada. This is old news.
Nearly a year ago, in February 2007, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology issued a unanimous report entitled “Manufacturing: Moving Forward--Rising to the Challenge”. The committee chair, who is the Conservative member for , and all the committee members from all parties decided that this report deserved the government's support.
Here is an excerpt from the report, which was released nearly a year ago, in February 2007:
While the rest of the Canadian economy is generally very robust, many industries within the manufacturing sector are struggling to remain competitive against the backdrop of a Canadian dollar that has risen in value by more than 40% in just four years in comparison to its American counterpart, rising and unpredictable energy costs, increasing global competition, particularly from China and India, and excessive and inefficiently designed regulations, to name but a few challenges.
The report also said:
The Committee believes that the Government of Canada should make the preservation of a competitive Canadian manufacturing sector a national goal, and that given the gravity of the challenges facing the sector, the recommendations presented in this report should be implemented in a timely fashion.
The Bloc Québécois members of the committee, of which I was one, supported this report in good faith, because it contained a comprehensive industrial strategy Canada needed in order to give the manufacturing industry a chance. Now, in November 2007, nearly one year later, and especially in the wake of the economic statement in which the government ignored all the committee's recommendations, half of one recommendation on accelerated depreciation was included in the most recent budget. There are still 21 and a half recommendations to be implemented, but the government's current attitude does not give us much hope that this will happen.
The government is acting like the economy is doing well. It keeps saying that the unemployment rate has gone down. In my riding, when people systematically go from jobs that pay $15, $18, $20 or $22 an hour to jobs that pay $8, $10 or $12 an hour, things are not so rosy. In my riding, since the 2006 election alone, Bermatex in the textile industry has closed, as have Consoltex, and Baronet in Beauce and a sawmill in Saint-Juste-de-Bretenière. Whirlpool closed as well, just before that period in 2006. Hundreds of jobs have been lost. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology tabled a unanimous report on this—with support from all parties—but the government is still unable to follow through. We wonder why this is so. Maybe it is just the Conservatives who are currently in government who think nothing needs to be done.
I have an excerpt of comments made by Mr. Poloz, Senior Vice-President Corporate Affairs and Chief Economist at EDC, Export Development Canada, “Canada’s overall export sector is having a tough go, with growth minimal during the past four years”. Minimal during the past four years! The Conservatives went so far as to add, on page 28 of the finance minister's economic statement, a chart entitled, “Real GDP Growth by Sector Since December 2005”. There is only one sector that has had positive growth and that is the oil sector. All the other sectors, machines, paper and printing, plastics, rubber and metal products, food and beverage, primary processing of metals, textiles, clothing and leather, wood, furniture and non-metallic mineral products, cars and parts, all these sectors have experienced negative growth and it is getting worse.
On page 27 of the economic statement we read:
The manufacturing sector has been impacted the most over the past two years, with real output declining by more than 3 per cent and employment declining by more than 130,000 since December 2005.
How can an elected government, that says it is capable of managing the economy properly, sit back and do nothing? This is not a problem that cropped up yesterday morning; this problem has been around for many years and was raised unanimously by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, by members from all the parties, including Conservative members and the chair of the committee himself, who made the observations I mentioned earlier.
That is not all. Recently, the Premier of Quebec and the Premier of Ontario said the same thing, that is, that the federal government must do its part. In Le Soleil, in an editorial entitled “Impervious Harper”, Ms. Breton writes:
It is time [the Prime Minister] saw the cracks in the Canadian economy and did something about them. How can the Prime Minister say the country's economy is as solid as the Canadian Shield, when thousands of jobs have been lost in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, and even more are threatened by the soaring loonie? Of course, the Prime Minister cannot interfere in the responsibilities of the Bank of Canada. It is a fact: it is not up to politicians, but rather, the Bank of Canada to determine monetary policy and set interest rates.
He could use any number of means. There is the entire report produced by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. The report is there; all he had to do was act on it. All he had to do was have the Minister of Finance say, with complete logic, based on page 30 of the economic statement, that in order to address these problems, to tackle them and find solutions, he would implement a number of the recommendations unanimously passed by the members of this House. However, he has not had the courage to do so.
What is the underlying reason? I can think of only one. The Conservative government is only interested in promoting the oil and gas companies. Indeed, that sector's economy is doing very well at this time. Canada currently has a two tier economy. There is the economy of the west, where oil and gas companies are growing very rapidly, and the economy of the east, in Quebec and Ontario, where things are very difficult in the manufacturing sector. It is quite surprising and rather appalling that the Conservative government has not seen any measure it could take, among the many recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I would like to come back to this, because I think it is very important to do so.
Here are more objections. In a letter addressed to the federal Minister of Finance, Jean-Paul Gagné, who is an editorial writer for the newspaper Les Affaires, wrote: However, allow me to tell you once again that these tax cuts are ill suited. The Prime Minister, who holds a master of economy, and yourself must have learned in university that lowering the GST promotes consumption, but that includes to a large extent imported goods, and this does little for Canada's economic growth.
People have come to realize that lowering the GST by 1 point results in a direct transfer of money to China. This measure did nothing to help our manufacturing industry be competitive and make goods that can be sold at competitive prices. In no way did the Conservative government act to promote that. Rather, the result was a total free market, which means that we are almost subsidizing employment abroad, and that is totally unacceptable.
But let me get back to what Mr. Gagné was telling the : You put political considerations before economic governance and cooperative federalism. The future of several provinces, and even that of the country, is in jeopardy, because public authorities are not investing enough in education and innovation.
So, there is a general opposition to this measure, including by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Premier of Quebec, the Premier of Ontario, the editorial writer, and particularly the people who are going through tough times in each of the companies that we visited.
Last week, during the break, we heard everywhere news about sawmills going through very difficult times and about the forest industry needing some action by the federal government. As far as the manufacturing sector is concerned, there have been similar messages, but the government has in no way started to move in that direction.
That is why, today, the Bloc Québécois has brought this motion before the House. We hope to have the support of a vast majority of members in this House, Liberals, New Democrats and Conservatives who also encounter this reality in their ridings. There are indeed Conservatives in Quebec who depend on the forest industry and who want the federal government to be told to go back to the drawing board. They think this is important. They want us to let the government know that the economic statement does not deal with the real problems, that there are deep problems and that the government has the financial margin to tackle these problems. In fact, the government has billions of dollars to do that and has the industrial strategy proposed by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. The government as a whole has this ability. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance must go back to the drawing board and make sure that we will not have to face tomorrow a disaster caused by the Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to congratulate and thank my colleague from for his speech and, of course, for the exceptional work he did when he was our party's critic for human resources and social development, as he is doing now as finance critic.
As for everything else in this House, we always try to show discipline out of respect for our colleagues. I would appreciate it if our colleagues would do the same today out of respect for this House.
Earlier, my colleague clearly showed that this obvious political choice on the part of the Conservative Party is based on the same pillars as those used by the Bush government in the United States. This means that the strength of the economy must come from the military industry and the oil industry, as my colleague so aptly illustrated. Right now, oil is to our economy what EPO is to some athletes who resort to doping. It is the only industry that gives some impetus to the Canadian economy since all other sectors are in trouble, particularly the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
I would say to our colleagues from Quebec in the Conservative party—and I would say the same thing to the Liberals—that, when we, the Bloc Québécois, appear at any meetings or gatherings, people tell us all the time that we look as though we are working very hard. I always tell them that, in the Bloc Québécois, we have to work hard because we are working for 75 members, even though there are only 49 of us. Why? It is because there are federalist party members who are definitely working against the interests of the population, who are primarily concerned about the interests of the powerful, especially the oil companies. It is true. This is about more than just grandstanding.
My colleague said so awhile ago. Look at page 30 of the economic statement. All industrial sectors are there. At present, the only one that gets ongoing financial support from the Canadian government is the oil industry, those I would call the oil barons.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, our economy is based heavily on the manufacturing sector. The manufacturing sector is so crucial that in Quebec there are three times more revenues generated by the manufacturing sector than what Alberta, for example, produces through the oil industry, that is, 536,000 jobs with a payroll of $22 billion.
This is the economic impact the manufacturing sector has in Quebec, a sector that accounts for 90% of international exports. Thus, of the $69 billion in exports, $63 billion comes from the manufacturing sector.
The production of goods generates the most wealth in Quebec. But when measures to revitalize the manufacturing sector are not accepted, this amounts to policies that run completely counter to Quebec’s interests.
To illustrate my remarks, I remind the House that 135,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Quebec, or the equivalent of one worker in five, since December 31, 2002. That is 65,000 jobs lost since the arrival of the Conservatives.
This morning our colleagues listed the measures designed to help the manufacturing sector. It would have been far better if they had not put them in place because I get the impression that the measures they have taken have done more harm than good to the manufacturing sector.
One colleague said: “Do not tell us what has happened, tell us what you are going to do.” You made a commitment—and you are doing so again today—to provide help for the manufacturing sector, but you are not announcing anything.
The Bloc’s motion, put forward today, has the advantage of getting each party to take a position to ensure concrete measures with a view to helping the manufacturing sector. In Quebec, some 275,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector alone.
Let us speak now of the forestry crisis. From May 2002 to April 2005, a total of 10,000 jobs were lost in sawmills and paper mills. That was before 2005. Since April 2005, 21,000 more jobs have been lost. This is the Conservatives. The last MPs elected in byelections were Conservative members. I come back to this often, because it is important for citizens to realize that there are people in this House who got themselves elected on platforms which clearly distorted the truth. The member for got himself elected by telling the forestry industry that he would help it out, by asking it to bring him to power in this government. His first speech in the House was concerned with idolizing his leader. He spoke about “a certain Albertan”. He used just about every term available to sing his praises, but no terms to describe the measures that had to be taken to give some dignity to the people he represents in his constituency. The only way to give that dignity is to propose concrete measures for the forestry industry.
Those concrete measures can be found in the motion. Here are the solutions: better tax support for research and development, particular attention to the resource regions, investment in development of new products. We could have filled pages with them, but managed to summarize things in a single motion. Will they vote for this today? This is the hour of truth for the people who got themselves elected on the promise to help out these workers and these entrepreneurs.
Earlier, a colleague was talking about employment insurance. We have just proposed concrete measures to help out the industry. However, when workers suffer inevitable job losses, they are willing to go back to work. They are brave people who want to work. So they go and take courses and attend back-to-work sessions, when there are jobs. But what happens when there are none?
They have been beset by two misfortunes. First, they were faced with a Liberal government that destroyed the employment insurance program. Then, the Conservative government went back on its commitments, namely that it would restore the employment insurance program, specifically by setting up an independent employment insurance fund so that the government would stop dipping into the fund for other purposes. However, there are older workers who no longer have an income, who find themselves on welfare, even though they have contributed to employment insurance all their life. The Liberal government eliminated the POWA, and the Conservatives promised to restore it. However they are maintaining the position of the Liberal government.
It is the same thing with employment insurance. At the end of this month, we will have the second hour of debate at third reading of Bill . This bill is intended to restore the employment insurance system by providing benefits to people who have contributed to the fund and who are the only ones, with their employers, who have done so. And all the money needed to do this is there. In fact, there is another $3,300,000,000 surplus this year, so we have what is needed to be able to meet the obligations of Bill . And yet the government continues to impose constraints on workers who lose their jobs.
I in turn invite my colleagues to vote for this motion, so that this government will take concrete steps to help these two sectors, manufacturing and forestry, to get out of this crisis.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Canada's economy and how the Conservative government's policy and initiatives are delivering, in a significant manner, for Canada's manufacturers and our forestry industry.
Less than two years ago, Canadians voted for a change. Canadians voted for a government with clear priorities, for leadership, for accountability and for action, which is exactly what the Conservative government has done. This government stepped up to the plate, assumed its responsibilities and is getting the job done.
Because of the leadership of our , Canada's economy has never been stronger. Despite the rhetoric of the opposition parties, Canada's economy is rock solid. Contrast this to most of our closest trading partners that are experiencing economic uncertainty and flirting with recession.
Canadians now enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in 33 years, 5.8%, which includes the lowest unemployment rate in years for Quebec. This year alone overall employment in Canada has increased by nearly 350,000 jobs and most of these are full time, high quality, good paying jobs. Business investment is expanding and we are experiencing the second longest economic expansion in our nation's history.
We are the only country in the G-7 that has ongoing budget surpluses and a falling debt burden. As our government continues to pay down our debt, we will ensure that the interest payment savings are returned to hard-working Canadians in the form of tax cuts, similar to the $60 billion tax cuts announcement made by the just two weeks ago, which, by the way, the hypocritical Bloc voted against.
Our economy continues to grow at a solid pace. During the second quarter of 2007, the Canadian economy grew by 3.4% and following first quarter growth of 3.1%. Private sector forecasters expect continued solid growth over the next five years. The world is bullish on Canada and with good reason.
Who is responsible for this success? The answer is very simple. Canadians from all walks of life and across all communities, those who every day are developing and adding value to our resource industries, those working in our manufacturing industries, those innovating and developing in our schools and universities, those maintaining our critical infrastructure, our construction industry and those other Canadians who provide the goods and services that make this nation what it is today.
It is thanks to these Canadians that we can stand up with pride and say that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are building a better, safer and stronger Canada.
What was the role of the Bloc Québécois in attaining these economic feats? The answer is and forever will be that of a bench warmer. The Bloc will always be relegated to the opposition benches and will never be able to deliver a single result for la belle province.
In stark contrast to the party that will always be in proverbial opposition, this government understands the vital role played by the manufacturing sector. We have acknowledged its challenges and have delivered meaningful results.
Manufacturers employ over two million Canadians in our cities and in our rural communities, in small businesses as well as in large firms. Manufacturing directly represents one-sixth of our economy. The economic spin-offs from this important industry reverberate throughout the entire economy. Without a doubt, a strong manufacturing sector is crucial to a vibrant national economy.
If the Bloc had researched the topic, it would have realized that nearly everything in its motion has already been addressed by either the industry committee's manufacturing report or one of the Conservative government's major economic or innovation announcements.
The industry, science and technology committee, which included two Bloc members, heard first-hand how this vital sector has faced challenges over the past several years, including higher and more volatile commodity prices, intense international competition and a slowing United States economy. On top of this, Canadian manufacturers have had to adjust to the sharp rise in the value of the Canadian dollar.
Last February, my good friend and colleague, the member and chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. presented the results of our committee study on the challenges facing Canadian manufacturers. The committee heard from over 100 witnesses and, thanks to the hard work of the member for Edmonton--Leduc, the committee produced 22 unanimous recommendations to our government. These recommendations cover taxation, energy, labour, trade and intellectual property rights protection, as well as regulatory, infrastructure, research and development and commercialization policies.
What was the response of the Conservative government? In budget 2007, we successfully delivered on 21 of 22 of the recommendations, which is why many consider budget 2007 the most manufacturing friendly budget ever delivered. Long before the Bloc conceived this petty attempt at playing politics with this critical sector, our government delivered meaningful results.
Our response, “Manufacturing: Moving Forward - Rising to the Challenge”, was a comprehensive and overwhelmingly positive report, demonstrating our commitment to manufacturers, their employees and the communities in which they live. Our response demonstrates leadership and a willingness to act with urgency at a time when manufacturers need it most.
The government's response was quick and decisive and spoke directly to the needs of manufacturers. Our response delivered immediate tax relief. It secured Canada's place as a leader in the production and use of clean and renewable energy sources through strategic investments. It introduced new initiatives and improvements to existing programs to help ensure that Canadian manufacturers have access to a highly skilled and a well educated workforce.
Last November, the government set in motion its long term economic plan to create five advantages to improve the quality of life and succeed on the world stage: first, a tax advantage that reduces taxes for all Canadians in establishing the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G-7; second, a fiscal advantage that eliminates Canada's total government debt in less than a generation; third, an entrepreneurial advantage that reduces unnecessary regulation and red tape and increases competition in the Canadian marketplace; fourth, a knowledge advantage that creates the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world; fifth, an infrastructure advantage to build the most modern infrastructure that we need; and, sixth, to build a tax advantage, budget 2007 spoke directly to the needs of Canadian manufacturers by introducing tax measures and initiatives that benefit them.
First and foremost, the Conservative government provided a shot of adrenalin to manufacturers by delivering on the number one recommendation of the industry committee report and Canadian manufacturers and exporters of an accelerated capital cost allowance for the purchase of machinery and equipment, allowing for a two year writeoff on these investments. We also increased the capital cost allowance rate for buildings used in manufacturing or processing to 10% from 4%, as well as for other assets. These measures will allow our manufacturers to invest in the buildings, machinery and equipment that will help them remain innovative, productive and competitive.
Budget 2007 also accelerated the elimination of the federal capital tax by two years and eliminated the corporate surtax for all corporations. Again, it was this Conservative government that delivered these measures, while the Bloc will always play the benchwarmer.
Two weeks ago, in his economic statement to the nation, the announced that our government would further stimulate the manufacturing and processing sectors with additional corporate tax reductions that will provide $2.6 billion in tax relief. This was another bold fiscal measure that was praised by Canadian manufacturers and exporters, again another measure the Bloc could never deliver because it will always be in opposition.
Our bold new tax reduction initiative will lower the general corporate income tax rate to 15% by 2012 from the current rate of 22.1%. With these tax reductions in place, Canada will achieve the lowest overall tax rate on new business investment in the G-7 by 2011 and the lowest corporate statutory income tax rate in the G-7 by 2012. These measures were welcomed by business and manufacturers as an extremely important step in building upon Canada's ability to compete internationally to retain and attract new business investments.
The commitment to eliminate Canada's net debt within a generation will provide for further tax relief in the future. Our Conservative government has committed to return any interest savings from reducing debt back to Canadians directly in the form of lower taxes.
It is imperative to note the height of the Bloc's hypocrisy at this point. Despite the Conservative government providing lower corporate, business and personal taxes, two weeks ago the Bloc stood in this House and voted against each of the measures that will provide substantive assistance to manufacturers when they need it most.
This government has delivered many other measures and initiatives that are enhancing Canada's economy and assisting manufacturers.
A major element of our plan to build an entrepreneurial advantage is to relieve businesses from the paper burden imposed by bureaucracies, which is why we are cutting red tape for small and medium sized companies that often bear a proportionately higher regulatory cost than the larger companies.
Last month, my colleagues, the and the , took another giant leap toward the reduction of red tape for businesses by eliminating 80,000 requirements and obligations in 13 key regulatory departments and agencies. Our goal is to reduce the federal paperwork burden for businesses by 20% by November 2008. Again, a measure the Bloc will never deliver for Quebec manufacturers.
Another important initiative the government has provided was the announcement of the competition policy review panel as promised in budget 2007 last July. The creation of this panel is another example of how this government is taking seriously Canada's economic place in the world and another sad reminder of the uselessness of the Bloc.
Last week, the competition policy review panel released its consultation paper “Sharpening Canada's Competitive Edge”. The panel will listen to Canadians and make recommendations on how to create the conditions to foster the development of Canadian-based global businesses and how to position Canada to be a world-leading destination for talent, capital and innovation.
To compete in today's global marketplace, manufacturers must be innovative and have access to highly skilled employees. This Conservative government is creating an environment where Canadians firms can harness knowledge, commercialized research and produce innovative products and services.
Canada's long term competitiveness and our standard of living depend on research and development of new ideas. This is why it was no accident that Harper released the national science and technology strategy--
Mr. Speaker, the released the national science and technology in Waterloo last May, which is a hotbed for innovation. Mobilizing science and technology to Canada's advantage, our S and T strategy is designed to boost private sector investment in research and development and enrolment in university science and the engineering programs.
Our strategy is designed to promote world-class excellence, focus on priorities and encourage partnerships, including collaborations involving the business, academic and public sectors. It focuses on four areas that are important to Canadian manufacturers: natural resources, the environment, health and information technology.
The government will foster a competitive and dynamic business environment, pursue public-private research and commercialization partnerships and increase the impact of federal business R and D assistance programs. We are forging ahead to deliver on these commitments.
To address another of the unanimous targeted tax recommendations from the industry committee's report, supported by the Bloc, the and the recently launched consultations on how to make the scientific research and experimental development, or the SR and ED tax credit program, more effective for Canadian business, including manufacturers.
The SR and ED tax credit is one of the most generous programs of its type in the world. Yet manufacturers are not taking full advantage of it. We will fix that as we strive to improve the program to make it more relevant and more accessible to businesses, including manufacturers.
Again, this is another example of how the Bloc can only recommend, but in the end, it has no place to deliver real results for Quebec.
The Conservative government did not stop there. Just four weeks ago the and the announced $105 million to seven centres of excellence, focused on priority issues of research and commercialization for Canada. This funding will help Canada achieve world-class success in strategic areas of scientific opportunity and competitive advantage. I have no doubt that much of the work in these centres will benefit manufacturers.
Progressive steps the Conservative government has made keep going.
On October 18, the announced the appointment of 17 members to the new Science, Technology and Innovation Council. This council will play a vital role in providing science and technology advice on issues identified by government, which are critical to Canada's economic development and well-being. A number of these members have worked in Canada's manufacturing sector and they understand manufacturers' needs.
I would like to boast of one private-public success story. The recently visited the Canadian Space Agency David Florida Laboratory to view the next generation commercial satellite, RADARSAT-2. This state of the art technology demonstrates what investment in science and technology can produce. It is a product of the unique public-private sector partnerships and is manufactured right here in Canada. It is a testimony of what can be made here in Canada and in a high tech manufacturing environment by highly skilled Canadians.
The government has set out the kind of measures and initiatives that allow manufacturers to adapt and innovate, again, measures the Bloc will never be able to deliver.
Finally, to create an infrastructure advantage, the Conservative government is intent on supporting a climate of success for manufacturers by investing in critical infrastructure across Canada.
Recently, on November 6, the , Premier Gordon Campbell and the signed a historic Canada-B.C. agreement to launch “Building Canada”. Building Canada is a historic $33 billion infrastructure plan that will build a stronger, safer and better Canada. Building Canada will provide more funding over a longer period of time, from 2007 to 2014, than any previous federal infrastructure initiative. This plan includes investment of $1 billion for the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative and of $2.1 billion for the gateways and border crossings fund, which will help improve the flow of goods between Canada and the rest of the world, essential for our manufacturers and our exporters.
A part of this announcement included $400 million for the construction of the Windsor-Detroit crossing and access road, which was another recommendation by the industry committee.
As more and more of our manufacturers are integrated across local, national and global supply chains, they depend on reliable, secure and strong infrastructure.
Unlike the members of the Bloc Québécois, who will always be relegated to the position of benchwarmer who play politics with one of the most crucial components of Canada's economy and will never deliver results for Quebec's manufacturers, the Conservative government has delivered and will continue to deliver real results for manufacturers and workers. We will continue to work with industry, ensuring that we are setting the right climate for Canadian manufacturers to thrive in the global economy, thereby securing good high paying jobs for Canadians and Quebeckers.
The government has provided the support that Canadians expect, and we are delivering for our communities and our commitments. We are addressing the major challenges that manufacturers and their workers are facing head-on and we will continue to demonstrate real leadership for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is my duty to rise today to address the situation in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. In my country, Quebec, these sectors are going through a serious crisis. In my area and in my riding of , in the Outaouais region, we can feel their pain.
At the Domtar plant located in Gatineau, in the Outaouais region, there are only 70 active workers remaining to provide electric, steam and sewer services to the neighbouring Kruger plant. At the end of October, 180 out of the 250 Domtar employees were laid off. They were producing coated paper for magazines.
The union and the revitalization committee are continuing to work relentlessly to get this federal government to help the plant keep its machinery operational, so that an eventual buyer can take over and restart production, and thus, give back jobs to the papermakers who were cut loose last month. They are asking that the federal government help that plant as it did the Davie shipbuilding plant in Lauzon, near Quebec City, in the early 2000s, by keeping the machinery up to standard. That was successful over there, and the Davie Shipyard was revitalized. We wish the same for Domtar in Gatineau.
Incidentally, the will meet later today with union representatives from that plant, namely Gene Hartley and Gérard Carrière, as well as myself. We will try to enlist the support of the current government in our efforts, as the workers from Davie, in Lauzon, did. I cannot imagine the Domtar plant in Gatineau shutting down completely. The 400 employees of the Kruger plant, also in Gatineau, which depends on the three services Domtar continues to provide, might also fall victim to the current crisis in the paper industry.
I think of the Bowater plant, located in my riding. This paper plant employed 1,450 workers in 1991. Today, there are only 425. Last March, 171 papermakers were laid off. As Gaston Carrière, union leader and president of Local 142 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, pointed out, in February 2007, the multinational announced to the employees operating machine No. 3 that the machine would be temporarily idled for 30 days. One week before production was to resume, Bowater announced that machine No. 3 would be idled indefinitely.
At a press conference in June 2007, Mr. Carrière said he saw employees with 25 to 30 years of service in tears. In this case, the Conservative government's program for older workers did not pay a single cent to those individuals. It is a trumped-up program whose criteria are so strict that one would have to live on Saturn to access it.
That is the current state of the manufacturing and forestry crisis. It is extremely difficult for the workers who have been affected, as well as their family and community. The Bloc Québécois would like to play an active role in boosting these industrial sectors. This is why I support the motion put forth by my colleague, the Bloc Québécois' industry critic, the hon. member for :
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately establish a series of measures to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors hard hit by the rising dollar and increased competition from new players in the field of low-cost mass production, specifically including a program to support businesses that wish to update their production facilities, a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development in the industry, the re-establishment of an economic diversification program for forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservatives abolished, a review of the trade laws to better protect our companies against unfair competition, and better financial support of workers affected by the crisis in the manufacturing sector.
Like the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Bloc Québécois believes that by taking no action, the Conservative Party is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Here are some solutions the Bloc Québécois has come up with: support the workers hit by the crisis; create an income support program for older workers, to enable workers aged 55 to 64 who cannot be retrained and who are victims of massive layoffs to bridge the gap between employment insurance and their pension fund; make substantial improvements in the employment insurance program by increasing the accessibility period by five weeks for all regions, regardless of the unemployment rate; raise the benefit rate from 55% to 60% and base the benefit calculation on the best 12 weeks; eliminate the waiting period and reduce the minimum number of insurable hours required to qualify for benefits to 360; create financial tools to encourage companies to invest and modernize, such as a program of loans and loan guarantees to help companies modernize. These loans, which would be made available to companies at the market rate for financially healthy companies, would be especially useful to companies in financial difficulty that cannot easily borrow on private markets or have to pay a risk premium, which adds to their interest charges.
Introducing this program would mean lower interest rates for companies that are investing. While the higher dollar should let companies renew their production equipment at a low cost, they simply do not have the ready cash to invest.
As well, companies need better tax support for research, development and innovation. The government needs to expand the types of eligible expenses by including the costs of obtaining patents or the costs of training employees who are working on innovative projects.
The Research and Development Tax Credit must be made refundable so that businesses will benefit from it even though they are at the development stage and do not make any profit.
A program must be established to provide support for the production of energy and ethanol fuels using forest waste. Besides contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases, such a program would allow forest-dependent businesses to have additional revenue coming from the sale of energy and to spend less for petroleum fuel.
Fixed greenhouse gas reduction targets must quickly be set in order for a carbon credit exchange market to be established. I would like to point out that aluminum smelters and forest-dependent businesses have made important efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Let us also think about modernizing the trade legislation to better protect businesses against unfair competition. The Canadian antidumping legislation goes back to the Cold War era and is completely outdated in the present context, particularly as we face the competition from China. It is urgent to get the Canadian trade legislation up to par with other industrialized countries, especially the United States and the European Union countries. The member for has in fact introduced Bill for the benefit of all Quebecers and Canadians.
That is what the Bloc Québécois is proposing. It is proposing solutions to major problems. All that is missing now is the political will. On our side, we have the will. We raise these issues and we manage to meet with citizens suffering from crisis such as the one we are facing now, in the forestry and manufacturing sectors among others.