Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-21. In my opinion, part of what we are addressing today is our vision of development aid.
I would remind hon. members that the purpose of this bill is to extend two customs tariff programs for another ten years. The first of these is the general preferential tariff and the second, the least developed country tariff.
The GPT dates back a good number of years—more than 25 now—to 1974. It reduces Canadian customs on a broad range of products from more than 180 developing countries. This tariff agreement, as we know, is also part of the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization.
Then there is the LDCT, which is a more recent development, although also several decades old now, dating back to 1984. It provides complete duty-free access to all imports, except for certain agricultural goods, from the 48 least developed countries, according to the United Nations.
Consequently, the bill is intended to extend to June 2014 existing provisions of the Customs Tariff legislation designed, as I mentioned, to provide developing countries with preferential access to the Canadian market. In this respect, we cannot disagree with Bill C-21.
The Bloc Quebecois, like everyone in Quebec, has always defended the idea that developing countries have a right to develop, and that closing our borders to their products is certainly not a way to help them develop.
Therefore, we want to be consistent with our approach to helping these countries develop, in particular through official development assistance. If, on the one hand, we did that, while, on the other hand, when these countries made an effort to develop, we closed our borders to their products, we would be completely contradicting ourselves.
That said, I must point out that, while Bill C-21 is a good thing in principle, there are a number of reasons for caution. I will come back to them. I would also like to point out the fact that the great contradiction is not in bringing in Bill C-21, but in bringing it in with the levels of official assistance that Canada is currently providing to developing countries.
I remind the House that, since the Liberals have been here, official assistance has decreased by nearly a half. When the Liberals came to power, official development assistance was at nearly 0.5% of the GDP or GNP in Canada, while on the international scene, the agreed-upon standard—and I believe it was the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Pearson, who proposed this—is 0.7% of the GNP or GDP.
Thus, when the Liberals came to power, we were almost three-quarters of the way there. Now, we are one-third of the way there. In 1993-94, when the new finance minister, now the Prime Minister, arrived, there began a time of draconian cuts in Canada's official development assistance, which dropped from 0.49% to 0.44% of GDP in 1993-94 and hit rock bottom in 2000-01, with 0.25% of GDP. There is nothing to be proud of in this. At present, it stands at about 0.27% of GDP.
The great contradiction in introducing Bill C-21 is that on one hand we are opening our market, but on the other hand we are not giving them the means to organize their development, not only from an economic perspective, but from a social perspective as well. When Quebeckers support a bill like this, they do so to ensure that development does not benefit just a handful of people in these countries, but everyone, whether in Bangladesh, Cambodia or any of the 48 least developed countries.
I remind hon. members that these 48 developing and least developed countries represent 614 million people in Southeast Asia but mostly in Africa. I also remind hon. members that the average annual income of the inhabitants of these 48 countries is $500 or less. Imagine the poverty.
Some 40% of the inhabitants of these 48 countries live on only a dollar a day. This is another example of how far these countries are lagging behind. This has appalling consequences from all perspectives, not only on general living conditions, but also life expectancy. The average life expectancy in these countries is 25 years less than the average for developed countries.
We really need to open our borders to their products and properly invest in official development assistance. We must reaffirm the need for 0.7% of the gross domestic product, which is also called the gross national product. Gross national product was used as an indicator to describe the wealth of a country when the international community agreed on a target. Now we talk about the gross domestic product, but, overall, it amounts to the same thing. Not only must we reaffirm the objective of 0.7% of the gross domestic product, but we must have a very specific plan to achieve this goal in the next few years, not the next several decades.
We can only hope that the upcoming election campaign will enable the Liberals and the other parties—as the Bloc Quebecois will be doing—to make some very firm commitments, not only with respect to the objective but also with respect to the specific plan for achieving it. We know that this government is very strong on rhetoric but very weak on actual game plan. When I was at the CSN, we likened such people to drivers who always signalled a left turn and then turned right. This is the case for the Liberal party, the party of the current Prime Minister and former finance minister.
Over and above Bill C-21, which is fully in line with our vision of development, we also expect to see Canada invest properly in official development assistance. We therefore expect a firm commitment of 0.7% of GDP, and also a plan to achieve that within about 10 years, tops. Perhaps by 2014 such a law will no longer be needed. We may be able to open our borders to all countries, in the realization that everyone will be on the same footing as far as competition goes.
There are still some concerns, and I will get to them now. These least developed countries are often involved in industrial sectors in which Canadian and Quebec businesses are engaged here. There is therefore a totally legitimate concern on the part of both workers and entrepreneurs about the survival of these industries in Quebec and Canada.
Often, unfortunately, this government's approach is somewhat paternalistic or fatalistic when it comes to a number of industrial sectors with a heavy presence in Quebec. I am thinking of the garment and textile industries, for instance. I remember my days at the Université de Montréal as a student of economics in the early 1970s, when there was talk of soft sectors. The garment industry was one of those soft sectors with no future. The government's approach to this was merely to see how plants could be closed down as quietly and as quickly as possible.
At that time there were 40,000 garment workers in the greater Montreal region. That meant 40,000 jobs that were threatened, jobs the federal government merely crossed off. Its attitude: that's life, the natural economic trend, and these soft sectors will simply disappear from our economy and reappear in the developing countries. The federal government adopted a fatalistic attitude.
Fortunately for the industry itself, for the workers, for the unions involved and for the community, thanks in part to the considerable assistance provided by the City of Montreal at that time, the apparel industry is alive and well in Montreal and still accounts for 40,000 jobs. Obviously, we have not been able to increase employment in that industry, but we have managed to maintain it at the same level despite the fatalistic attitude of the federal government and its lack of substantial support.
We have managed to maintain these 40,000 jobs in the apparel industry over the last 25 to 30 years, despite the opening up of markets, and we want to preserve them. To do so, it is clear that we will have to manufacture products that are different from those currently available. This has been the case in the past.
If we have 40,000 jobs in the apparel industry in the Montreal area, which is the same level as in the early seventies, it is because our manufacturers, our workers, have developed such knowledge and skills that clothing made in Montreal is more of a top-of-the-line product than clothing made in Bangladesh or Cambodia. It is a quality product and there is a market for it not only in Quebec and in Canada, but also in a significant number of industrialized countries, particularly in the United States.
We will have to intensify our efforts in that area. This time, there must be real assistance on the part of the federal government so that the apparel industry in particular—but it is also true of the textile industry—can improve the quality of its products, diversify its products and manufacture more added-value products in order to be able to maintain its employment level and—we can always dream—perhaps even increase it.
As I said earlier, there is no need to be unduly alarmed. In fact, the 48 least developed countries I mentioned earlier represent barely 0.17% of all imports to Canada. This is not even equivalent to level of assistance we provide to these countries, which is 0.27%. We are therefore talking about 0.17% of Canadian imports, with 92% of these imports originating essentially in two countries, Bangladesh and Cambodia, particularly with regard to clothing.
Consequently, we want the government to make a very strong commitment to monitoring the rules of origin on clothing from these countries. We want to avoid the type of situation we have experienced at times under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Basically, fabric is used to manufacture, in China for example, unfinished items of clothing which are then sent to Bangladesh, where a “Made in Bangladesh” label is affixed inserted, and the clothes enter Canada duty free.
Therefore, it is extremely important that the government provide the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency with the means to monitor the rules of origin and to conduct investigations. Currently, however, it does not have the resources. The measly $5 million currently set out in the estimates will not allow the agency to act, given the complexity of the situation. Clearly, it is extremely complex. The people committing such falsification are skilled. Consequently, measures must be taken to oversee the rules of origin.
Let us hope that the government is serious when it says it is concerned about the future of these industries in Canada and Quebec and that it will take steps to ensure that the rules are respected, which is not always the case.
I am always shocked and surprised to see that Canada, particularly under this government, has earned an international reputation for being extremely naive when it comes to international trade. The former international trade minister, our resident optimist, did not help to increase awareness that people want to play with the rules of origin.
We are about the only ones who play by the rules. Everyone else uses all the tools at their disposal to bypass the rules. Canada is the only country to drastically reduce its agricultural subsidies, and open its borders without providing any help to its industries restructure and its workers retrain.
We can understand how these workers, entrepreneurs and communities would be concerned about these customs tariffs continuing to be lifted. Let us not forget that these tariffs were lifted a number of years ago.
This means that commitments more serious than those announced are in order. What good will $60 million over three years do? For example, in the softwood lumber issue, the government's aid package was totally inadequate. It was totally useless. We called for a second phase but, again, the same former international trade minister said that this second phase would be implemented in due course. The Bloc Quebecois has been calling for it for two years, and there is still nothing for the workers.
If hon. members follow what is going on in Quebec, they are aware that in recent days seasonal workers, more specifically in the North Shore region, have blocked highway 138 to show their discontent with the government's lack of action, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister.
In June of last year, the Prime Minister travelled to that region and boasted that he would support the Sans-chemise coalition, representing groups of unemployed workers, unions as well as a number of social groups. The Bloc Quebecois supports that coalition. The Prime Minister told these people that he had heard them and action would be taken.
The budget speech will be delivered this afternoon. I am anxious to see what kind of action will be taken on this issue. I am sure there will be none.
Since there is still talk of providing assistance to industries threatened by the opening up of markets, there is form of assistance we have been requesting for a very long time, which the government has not yet agreed to, and that is an older worker assistance program
For example, when a business in the apparel, textile or any other sector invests heavily in technology or equipment upgrades in order to compete, often not a single job is created to maintain its activities or increase its production. Sometime even, it must cut jobs. In an attrition process, a company could ask workers over the age of 55 who agree—instead of upgrading or learning new skills—to take immediate retirement under an older worker assistance program, which would bridge the gap until they are eligible for pension. This used to exist.
When I was at the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, many industries took advantage of a similar program. I remember, for example, a similar program at Marine Industries, as well as in the asbestos industry. It helped to humanize reorganizations and structural changes. One of the first things that the Liberal government did when it came to power was put an end to the program for older workers adjustment.
Consequently, if we are serious about wanting to help not only industries, but also those who make their living from these industries, it is essential to implement an older worker assistance program. Also, the eligibility rules and benefit levels under the employment insurance program need to be changed.
Nevertheless, more needs to be done. Perhaps we fiscal measures should be identified to encourage investment in these industries. For example, I am thinking of a measure that already exists. Members will doubtless smile. There is already a similar measure in marine construction, a sector with which our current Prime Minister is very familiar, in the environmental sector, as well as in a number of other sectors considered strategic for Canada's future. This is sometimes the case, and it may unfortunately not be used often enough.
There is an accelerated capital cost allowance program for these industries. This program could be expanded to include sectors threatened by foreign competition and the opening of our borders. This would show entrepreneurs and investors who take risks that the federal government recognizes the risks they are taking by allowing them to spread capital costs over three, four, five or six years, depending on the reality in each sector, rather than on the current rule.
These are things that must be looked into. But we must have a forum for discussing them. That said, we have asked the Standing Committee on Finance to put these items on the agenda after hearing the evidence from representatives of the apparel sector in particular.
I will tell the House one last anecdote. Did the hon. members know that a manufacturer in Bangladesh who imports his fabrics from China and makes a garment—without breaking any rules—can ship that garment to Canada with no tariff? But a Quebec or Canadian manufacturer who buys the same fabrics in China will have to pay a 19% tax on those fabrics on entry. There is something wrong with that. We are putting our own clothing sector at a disadvantage relative to foreign competition.
I want the rules of the game—as I have already said—to be the same for everyone. When I spoke about the “optimism” of the federal government with respect to international rules, that is one example. Not only do we open up our market, and that is something I agree completely with, but we also penalize our manufacturers in Quebec and Canada. That is not right. We must look into it. Since I have no confidence in the government, I want the Standing Committee on Finance to look into this state of affairs.
I will close by saying that another way to help our industry develop would be to ensure that basic rights, human rights and labour rights, are respected in those countries. Canada would be well advised to sign the International Labour Organization's conventions—something it has not done. In fact, Canada has not signed the conventions on child labour, forced labour, freedom of association or collective bargaining. In that way we can ensure that the workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh will be able to form unions, organize, negotiate good working conditions and benefit from the opening up of markets.