Madam Speaker, I am very happy to be rising in the House again, this time to speak to Bill C-4 and also the aluminum industry.
I first want to acknowledge all those who worked hard to ensure that the Bloc Québécois could support the agreement. This includes elected officials, such as the mayor of Alma, Marc Asselin; the mayor of Saguenay, Josée Néron; union representatives, in particular Éric Drolet, Sylvain Maltais and Alain Gagnon; as well as economic stakeholders.
People were indeed expecting us to vote, but they wanted us to be voting for gains. Instead of ordering us to shut up and vote no questions asked, they instead chose to work with us, which worked out really well in the end.
Indeed, it was a pretty good idea. We used the full power of our positions to ensure that the fundamental interests of Quebec and its regions were protected. We were not simply criticizing without making any suggestions.
It may have been a long shot back in December, since the House seems to have forgotten that an opposition can do more than oppose for the sake of opposing. We had to believe that it was possible to make gains. Clearly, our belief ultimately paid off.
I will come back to the steps that finally led me to say that I would vote in favour of Bill C-4. It think they are worth mentioning, mainly for those who are watching at home and who are wondering what happened between two days before CUSMA was ratified and now regarding the loss of protection for aluminum.
On December 10, we learned that aluminum was no longer protected, as my colleague from Joliette so clearly pointed out. The government abandoned the aluminum industry even though aluminum is Quebec's second-largest export. What is worse, the government considered the matter to be closed for the next 10 years. That was a disaster for us and for many stakeholders in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the North Shore and central Quebec.
On December 12, we clearly announced our intentions. We would not vote in favour of the agreement unless aluminum was given the same protections as steel. Even the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was on our side. He told the media that he planned to vote against the agreement. He issued a press release with us, which basically said the following:
There are some good things in the agreement, but the lack of protection for the aluminum industry is unacceptable...my constituents will always come first. The aluminum industry was not respected...and unless something is done to secure our place on the North American market or unless export programs are put in place, I am seriously considering voting against the agreement.
That has changed, but that is what he was saying not too long ago.
I imagine that he trusted us to do the rest. The following week, on December 19, we took part in a demonstration, without him, but with many unions, business owners, and municipal and provincial officials from all across Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. More people turned out than for LNG.
Aluminum has been a big industry for us for 100 years. What is more, the aluminum produced in my region and in Quebec is the greenest in the world.
Fundamentally, however, what everyone needs to remember is that when all this started, the Bloc Québécois were the only ones saying aluminum had not received the same protection as steel, because we were the only ones who had read the agreement carefully.
Curiously enough, the steel industry is concentrated in Ontario, and the aluminum industry, as we now know, is almost exclusively located in Quebec. In fact, 90% of Canada's aluminum is produced in Quebec, and 60% of that comes from Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. It is no surprise, really. Quebec is starting to get used to being used as a pawn in international treaties and being sacrificed for the sake of Ontario's auto industry and western Canada's oil industry.
We were the only ones saying it, while the Liberals kept trotting out the same old convoluted talking points. After repeating our arguments and proving them in debate, we eventually got the NDP and the Conservatives on our side. However, the Liberals continued to deny the sad truth. Unlike our colleagues in the other opposition parties, we could not let down our aluminum workers. We could not vote for the implementation of the agreement. There was just no way we could do that.
I may have mentioned this before, but I stuck a little note to the side of my nightstand that says, “Who do you work for”. It is the first thing I see every morning. The answer to that question is that I work for my constituents, for the people of Lac-Saint-Jean and for Quebeckers as a whole.
What do we do in this situation?
Some people said we were on our own. They did not reckon on the courage, strength and determination of our people. Our people mobilized, and we supported them politically and technically. We were not alone, and they were no longer alone. They all came here, to Ottawa, at the end of January, to air their concerns. Elected officials, workers and economic players from our regions came here to share their concerns, and they brought a study with them.
Basically, the study said that 30,000 jobs would be at risk if the expansion phases did not go through. Investments worth $6.2 billion were in jeopardy. That would have been $1 billion in economic spinoffs every year for 10 years gone if the agreement was not changed and a real solution not found. We needed a concrete proposal to provide better protection for aluminum.
Considering those massive numbers, should we have just sat there twiddling our thumbs?
We are talking about the vitality of our regions and of Quebec as a whole. We are talking about our families and our children, and that is why we all took a stand.
We did more than just criticize; that would not be our style. We also proposed a solution. Initially, no one on the other side of the House was listening to us. Life is like that, but only a fool will not change his mind. In the end, the Liberals did listen to reason. I will give them that, and I thank them for it.
The Liberals agreed to negotiate, and we finally reached an agreement. At the end of the day, some of my hon. colleagues were able to set partisanship aside and put the interests of their constituents ahead of the interests of the parties in the House.
There are many things that divide us in this place. For instance, I strongly believe that Quebec should become a country, and as soon as possible. Despite the obvious differences in our political perspectives, we were able to secure a win and ensure that aluminum would be better protected. It was a Bloc Québécois proposal, but it was the Deputy Prime Minister who brought that proposal to Washington. I thank her for that.
Imagine what would have happened if we had just remained in our seats and voted in favour of implementing the agreement without making any demands. It is not complicated. If the Bloc had acted like all the other parties in the House, our aluminum workers would have been left out in the cold. The regions in Quebec would have been abandoned. Quebec's economy would have once again been the big loser in another international treaty signed by Ottawa.
This House was then able to see the principles that guide the Bloc Québécois. Above all, we are guided by our conscience. There is no denying that we have had a positive influence on how work is done in the House. So much the better if the other parties represented here are inspired by our approach. In the end, it is the men and women we represent who come out on top.
Who do we work for? I know. Now it is up to all my hon. colleagues to answer that question.