Thank you, Mr. Chair. To simplify things, I will take the two five-minute blocks, that is the one granted to my colleague Mr. Vincent and myself, for a total of 10 minutes.
The forest industry has been in a crisis since 2005. Some levels of government are only starting to understand that we are in a major crisis. That is surprising, given that some other groups took only six months to understand the situation.
At the outset, allow me to refute the argument of some politicians who say that there can be no support for the forest industry because of the softwood lumber agreement. I would ask you to refrain from making that case, because it is utterly false. It is intellectually dishonest to say that. Allow me to give you a piece of advice: I would suggest you read the arguments concerning the present dispute put forward by the American coalition. Their case plainly states that the matter does not revolve around a loan guarantee at a commercial rate. So please do not say it is impossible; it is extremely possible.
I am very happy for the 500,000 workers in the automobile sector, but extremely disappointed for the 825,000 workers in Canada's forest industry. In Quebec alone, there have been 42,000 job losses since April 2005. No one seems to want to provide us with assistance. Measures have been taken, but who will benefit from them if there is no loan guarantee program to allow for refinancing? This will be a good budget for those who have made it through dire straits, but it does not help businesses and the industry as a whole.
That is the crux of the problem. Some politicians are justifying their position and firmly maintaining that it is impossible within the framework of the softwood lumber agreement. I am asking them to show me the section of the NAFTA treaty or softwood lumber agreement that states otherwise, and they should reread the arguments of the American coalition. They will come to realize that they are out to lunch. What they are saying does not hold up and stand analysis. I would add that, under the circumstances, it is pernicious to make people believe that the industry cannot be helped because of an agreement that is in place. Let us put an end to that, it is simply not true.
We have written to all political leaders and have asked for loan guarantees. We thought that we would be treated fairly, but we were not. You may well have nice support programs in place, but they will only be for those still left standing. The crisis in the forest industry is not over; you and I both know that.
From 2,200,000 permits in the United States, we are now down to 466,000, as of last week. You can imagine how serious that is for our exports. It is obvious. I do not believe that there will be an economic turnaround before the end of 2009, or even the start of 2010. We need a refinancing program and a support program in order to be well positioned for the recovery. Some businesses have to carry out major repairs, but do not currently have access to credit. Others would like to profit from the crisis by innovating but cannot make any investment, for want of capital. Governments—including provincial governments—are putting money on the table, but we do not even have the additional money to invest in order to benefit from these advantages.
I am pleading with you. I ask you to think before stating that you are unable to help. If the situation is dramatic in the automobile sector, it is all the more so in ours. In Quebec, 150 small towns depend 100% on the forest, while another 100 are 80% dependent on it. Think about that. That is the situation in Quebec today.
I ask you to show a little sensitivity and not engage in partisan games. We need true support.