Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, members of the Standing Committee on Finance.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jean-Luc Trahan, I am the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters of Quebec. I'm accompanied of Mr. Robert Davis, who is the Vice-President of Research, Analysis and Government Affairs.
We are pleased to share our observation about the budget tabled by the government this past February. We'd also like to share with you our assessment of the situation prevailing in the manufacturing sector in Quebec.
The mission of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters of Quebec is to enhance competitiveness within the industry and stimulate export growth. The manufacturing sector represents 10,000 companies that generate approximately 20% of Quebec's GDP and employ more than 550,000 people. The industry conducts 75% of private research and development activities and accounts for 86% of Quebec exports.
The five major challenges export manufacturers are facing, not only in Quebec but throughout Canada, are the following: finding ways to make ongoing improvements to manufacturing companies' productivity and global competitiveness; improving access to world markets; advocating the application of a more competitive tax system and flexible regulatory regime; developing the skills of employees of the manufacturing sector; and lastly, intensifying the shift towards sustainable development and the use of clean and efficient energy.
We are in a situation that we describe as a perfect storm. In the manufacturing sector this perfect storm can be explained by four factors: first, the rapidly rising Canadian dollar; second, a strong increase in energy costs; third, the intensification of globalization; and finally, the economic slow-down in the U.S. economy.
The demands we are submitting to the government are based on the Rajotte report released in February 2007, and can be summarized in eight points.
Firstly, the two-year capital cost allowance on investment in manufacturing and processing equipment should be extended to five years; secondly,
consider measures to monetize tax losses or to monetize depreciation if companies are in a loss position;
thirdly, harmonize provincial sales taxes with the GST; fourthly, improve the tax credit system for R&D; fifth, grant tax credits to employers for training and reduce employment insurance premiums accordingly ; sixth, organize a conference of provincial premiers and the federal minister to discuss problems arising from globalization; seventh, support the creation of a trade agreement with the European Union; lastly, provide financial support to associations such as ours whose mission is to provide concrete assistance to manufacturers in helping them become more competitive and productive.
Our biggest disappointment in this budget is the new measure concerning accelerated depreciation. Manufacturing made it clear to the government that the two-year write-off for investment in manufacturing and processing equipment, introduced in last year's budget, had to be extended for five years to give companies time to make investment decisions, to customize equipment, and to meet regulatory approval. Manufacturers are under the gun to innovate, and this measure basically takes us back to where we started.
A one-year extension at current levels doesn't fit into the business planning cycle for Canadian companies, so many hard-pressed businesses won't be able to take advantage of this. The timeframe proposed by the government in this year's budget is simply too narrow to allow manufacturers to take advantage of this measure. Companies must respond to a capital planning process that, in some cases, will require several months for determining capital allocation and the most attractive or competitive investment opportunities. Many manufacturers rely on customized machinery and equipment for their operations. Lead times for equipment suppliers are lengthy. And additional time is required to install the equipment and train workers in time to bring the equipment into full operation.
Our association now also proposes a recommendation for improving the SR&ED program, including the need to make tax credits refundable. In doing so, the benefit of the tax credit should be extended to companies operating in Canada that, because they suffer a decrease in profit, are forced to invest their own funds in R and D before they make a profit.
Lastly, the association had recommended to the government that it grant a 15% tax credit on investment to help to maintain and develop skills. The credit would also serve to reduce employment insurance contributions made by the employer.
Our association supports the implementation of recommendations put forward by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology; those recommendations are supported by the members of this committee.
The budget does not meet the expectations of manufacturers, and corporate tax cuts are not sufficient to allow manufacturers to make the necessary investments in manufacturing technology, innovation and skills development. Canada is lagging behind other countries in this regard.
It is essential that manufacturers are able fight on a level playing field in international markets.
We have referred to certain measures put in place by the federal government as unveiled in the economic statement of October 30, 2007, and the budget speech of February 26, 2008.
The reduction of the business tax rate was an important step that would allow Canada to maintain internal private investment levels and to continue to attract foreign investment.
On February 26, 2008, we also applauded the responsibility and prudence demonstrated by the Minister of Finance, who chose to not significantly increase the pace of government expenditures. We also recognized the benefits of the Community Development Trust, and pointed out that the federal government had acknowledged the changes that the Canadian manufacturing sector is facing, particularly single industry communities in Quebec and the rest of Canada that are feeling the strain of highly turbulent and competitive times.
However, in all of these cases, we signaled that the government should have completed these efforts with measures targeted specifically to the manufacturing sector, in keeping with the actions of the Quebec and Ontario governments. The association believes that measures announced to date are a step in the right direction, but we described them as insufficient, and continue to believe that.
In addition to alleviating the tax burden, the Government of Quebec adopted another approach, that of concretely supporting the manufacturing sector to stimulate productivity and increase competitiveness.
Over the course of the last 18 months, the Government of Quebec has suggested specific initiatives tailored to the manufacturing sector in an effort to stimulate innovation, increase productivity, spur investment, support the development of new markets, make up for the lack of liquidity of manufacturing companies, encourage the development of manufacturing workers' skills, and strengthen the financing capacity of specialized investment funds.
We believe that these measures are indeed positive for our sector, as can be supported by recent statistics on the economic outlook, as prepared by Statistics Canada. On May 14, Statistics Canada reported that Quebec's productivity increased by 1.5% in 2005, at a rate in excess of the national average. The Statistics Canada study shows that Quebec's manufacturing productivity increased by 3.2%, double the figure recorded in 2006.
Things are not good in Quebec. There is a reason for this. We believe that the Quebec government's openness toward the sector, and the approach of Premier Jean Charest and his minister Raymond Bachand, have had a positive impact on the situation.
Our governments must take action, because other OECD countries are focusing efforts on their respective manufacturing sectors. For instance, simply look at the actions of the Department of Trade and Industry in England, and the Agence française pour les investissements internationaux in France.
Our manufacturers are fighters and winners. They are firmly resolved to fight; but to win, they need certain essential conditions, and the assurance that the rules of competition are being followed, so that they can confront foreign manufacturers on an equal footing.
The Government of Canada must play an active role as a partner of the Canadian manufacturing sector and support the industry with structural and economic measures.
We also want to inform members of this committee about the support to non-profit organizations dedicated to economic development by the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec.
Several organizations such as ours have had their funding cut back by the Economic Development Agency of Canada. In Quebec, the Association of Manufacturers, along with others, plays a significant role in economic development. We must be taken into account.
Thank you for your attention, and we would welcome your questions.