Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to participate in this crucial debate, given the current social and economic situation in Canada and Quebec.
First of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague the hon. member for Mercier who has introduced on behalf of the Official Opposition this motion denouncing the lack of innovation, imagination and vision of this government in terms of job creation, because we must realize the magnitude of this problem in this country.
In January 1994, unemployment in Canada was still hovering around 11.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent in Quebec. This means that there are currently 1.6 million unemployed individuals in Canada, 425,000 of whom are in Quebec. That is unacceptable and honest minds will see this constitutes an emergency, a situation which calls for action, concerted action.
The Liberal Party of Canada apparently understood this at the time-because timing is important here-of drafting the red book presented to the voters during the October 1993 election campaign.
On page 15, you can read the following:
-Canadians are facing hardship: 1.6 million unemployed, millions on welfare, a million children living below the poverty line, record numbers of bankruptcies and plant closings.
Our overriding preoccupation is to offer a government that will help in solving problems and in creating opportunities for Canadians.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs" was their theme. A catch phrase that the people of Canada heard over and over, raising the hopes of many, particularly in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, that the government would finally see to it, as promised, that this hardship be alleviated as mentioned earlier.
At this time, I would like to digress for a moment to deplore the fact that this type of conduct seems to have become contagious. When we see Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson making easy, demagogic promises over which he has no control, there is a common denominator: everywhere we find Liberals who do such things. But have no fear, Mr. Speaker, Quebecers know the score; they are not so naive and will not be fooled; they will be able to judge those who have been in office for nine years and who let this situation deteriorate.
Let us return to the federal scene, which is our immediate concern. What are the Liberals doing now about the commitments they made in their red book? What about it, Mr. Speaker? There is a huge gap between what they say and write and what they do. What has come out of these commitments? A coast-to-coast infrastructure program, in which the government will invest $2 billion, it seems, with the co-operation of the provincial and municipal governments. How many jobs will we create for the 1,600,000 unemployed? It seems that we will create 45,000 temporary jobs. How many in Quebec for its 425,000 unemployed? Fifteen thousand temporary jobs. You should realize that this is what this government has proposed to meet its commitments: 45,000 temporary jobs, which include not only jobs that are created but also jobs that are maintained.
Of course, there is the Youth Service Corps that is also mentioned in the red book. Here is what it says on page 35: No group faces bleaker economic prospects than Canadians under 25. A Liberal government will help return hope to young Canadians by creating the Canadian Youth Service Corps, which will involve 10,000 young people a year. Mr. Speaker, do you know how many people under 25 were unemployed in Canada last month? There were 428,000 unemployed Canadians under 25, 18 per cent of this age group in the labour force, and this percentage and this number are increasing every month. What do they propose? A youth service corps with a fourfold mandate: community service; discovering and understanding Canada, as my colleague, the member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis, said last week in this House; environmental awareness; and personal growth.
That is very nice, it is well intentioned, but we have seen other Katimaviks, we have seen other schemes dreamed up by senators, but that is not what Canadians and Quebecers need, especially the young people we were just talking about. They need specific job creation measures to meet their needs, to give them back their dignity and, in the case of young people, to give them back their collective future and their personal future.
We do not need projects like Katimavik, but we know how interesting it could be before a referendum to take young people who are vulnerable, especially in Quebec, and give them the proper conditioning to show how much people care about them and how good it is to live in this very democratic country that has no work for them. We know all that can be done with that target group to win some more votes to keep Quebec dependent on Canada.
In these two cases, faced with the same unemployment problem, we see the very serious problem of joblessness affecting the Canadian economy and the people of Canada. All that this government has been able to find so far are half-measures, the infrastructure program and the youth service corps, things that skirt around the issue, that do not really solve the problem but that can be described as a sort of smoke screen, pseudo-solutions for problems that the government seems completely unable to solve, despite its claims.
The same goes for the information highway, a scientific and technological project, but what are they doing about it? What is the action plan? What funds are being allocated to it? All we know is that since October 25, 1993, the minister concerned, the Minister of Industry, recently appointed an advisory committee that will study the information highway, behind closed doors. Meanwhile, our American neighbours apparently have a fairly well-defined action plan, which has the full support of the U.S. Vice President.
Without knowing where we are going, we have appointed an advisory committee that, until further notice, will meet behind closed doors: such is Canada's electronic highway, Mr. Speaker.
This illustrates very well the attitude of this government; we do not know where it has been nor where it is going.
Regarding these commitments, we can honestly say without fear of being mistaken that this government has disappointed us, that it is beyond the hopes it had raised or tried to raise among Canadians with respect to infrastructure and the Youth Service Corps; it has only addressed unemployment in science and technology in the manner we just mentioned. The government is letting us down.
I would now like to speak to an issue I am particularly interested in as industry critic: industrial conversion. Let us refer once again to the red book stating the government's intentions in this area and others. On page 55 we read this: "The defence industries today employ directly and indirectly over 100,000 Canadians. The end of the Cold War puts at risk tens of thousands of high-tech jobs. A Liberal government will introduce a defence conversion program to help industries in transition from high-tech military production to high-tech civilian production".
That was the vision, the intentions of the Liberal Party of Canada in terms of industrial conversion. It was a wise, enlightened vision of the situation but unfortunately, after this document was released, we never heard again of this government's so-called vision or intention to encourage the conversion of military production to civilian production.
Yet, this sector is in dire straits. Between 1987 and 1992, the deliveries of arms manufactured in Quebec fell by more than 48 per cent, almost by half, from $1.6 billion in 1987 to $810 million in 1992.
Businesses in the defence industry are value-added high-tech manufacturing ventures where salaries are high. The number of Quebecers working in arms production is estimated at over 46,000. Electronics, aerospace, general transport and EDP are the most active sectors in the defence industry. The major defence companies are very well known: Bombardier, CAE, SNC, Lavalin, Pratt & Whitney, Bell Helicopter, Expro, Héroux, Marconi, Paramax.
All these companies were successful in finding their niche in an international competitive environment. Together, they are responsible for over one quarter of all the research and development work done in the Montreal region. They have always enjoyed the federal government's financial support to develop defence capacities.
This shows how the conversion of these defence companies, given the geopolitical changes occurring all over the globe, is important, especially in Quebec, to maintain a healthy high-tech industry.
During the election campaign, the Liberals made four major commitments regarding industrial conversion. First, to expand the mandate of the Defence Industry Productivity Program or DIPP, to help the industry convert and diversify, a $150 million program. Second, to establish an economic conversion commission, with the participation of industry and labour, to facilitate and coordinate the process of conversion in the defence industry. Third, to develop joint conversion arrangements with the United States, the market for 80 per cent of our defence exports, in order to establish a concerted conversion strategy. Fourth, the conversion of Canadian military bases, for example in training centres for peacekeeping forces.
As we saw earlier, the government's intentions were illustrated by the closure of military bases, without reference to any kind of conversion. As for the new mandate of DIPP, it is said in the budget speech that, indeed, this mandate will be expanded in three years to possibly include some form of assistance for conversion and diversification. But at the same time, the government says that in three years, and not right now, the budget allocated to that program will be reduced by $10 million per year.
One wonders why wait three years given the problems of that industry, a slowdown of all activities, a reduced number of contracts in general, as well as a need to transform that military industry into a civilian one.
Moreover, we never again heard anything about this idea of setting up a commission to look at the conversion issue with the companies and workers affected.
Yet, there is in Quebec an example which seems to serve as a model for all researchers and university people interested in this issue. I am referring to EXPRO, a company specializing in military products, which is famous for having experienced all kinds of problems throughout its existence, including labour relations problems. When it realized that it was obviously and clearly in jeopardy, the company decided to come to grips with its problems, this with the support of its workers. It set up a manpower committee, made an in-depth review of the situation, hired consultants, established a diagnosis, and now EXPRO is a company with a civilian production instead of a military one. I think this is an example to follow. EXPRO is showing that where there is a will, there is a way.
Yet, the situation is serious, and some members of the aerospace industry have already reacted to the government's intentions, and especially to its lack of vision, as illustrated by its decision to cut in the military sector and elsewhere, without having planned anything to make up for the impact of these measures.
So, last week, representatives of this industry, who worry about the government's intentions, asked for an urgent meeting with the Minister of Industry to find out just what these intentions are and to discuss them with him. I am talking about such prestigious industries as CAE and SPAR Aerospace, which asked to meet with the minister because of the government's attitude and lack of planning. We do not know what transpired,
but we sense that there is a malaise in this industry regarding the government's actions, or lack of action.
We have to be aware of the dangers which would threaten our economy should inertia, a lack of planning, or a lack of vision guide the government's actions and policies.
There is a precedent in Canada. A very high-tech industry of the time-I am referring to the AVRO ARROW case in the fifties-had to cease operations, which resulted in thousands of Canadian engineers leaving the country to go to the United States, thus triggering a massive exodus of brain drain.
If the government fails to take any action, the same will happen to the Canadian economy which, in a matter of a few years, may lose a very substantial number of qualified people who might otherwise have stayed here to try to turn the situation around.
Furthermore, while in Canada there seems to be a conspiracy of silence in this respect, in the United States the Clinton administration plans to provide $20 billion in assistance over the next five years for defence conversion. Here in Canada, $150 million will be spent over the next few years on defence research, and this $150 million will decrease by $10 million annually, starting in 1996-97. There is a difference in vision between the two administrations which is enormous.
What is particularly exasperating, and shocking as well, is that there are plenty of projects that could be converted. The Bloc Quebecois was very clear about that during the debate on cancelling the helicopter contract. It is not just cancelling the contract but knowing how we can make the best of the situation and convert a project that was rather questionable, from the military point of view, to civilian production that will benefit the population and ensure that the know-how will stay, in Quebec in this case, and that it will be used for civilian purposes and that the budgets will be maintained.
At the time we said that after cancelling the helicopter contract, the government should proceed with construction of the high-speed train. The manufacturing process would require equally complex technology which would have made it possible for our researchers and scientists to stay here and continue to develop and do research, but this time for civilian industries. If the government were to go ahead with this project, it would be able to develop new expertise in a field with a very promising future, apparently, in North America, and Quebec and Canada would be able to capture a substantial part of the market so that the principal expertise in North America would be spread from Quebec City to Windsor, via Trois-Rivières. However, the project is on the back burner, and the government does not really know where it is headed in this respect. Once again, the government lacks vision. There is also the sad case which we will not forget, despite the government's apathy, namely the case of MIL Davie of Lauzon. This company, which built military vessels primarily for the Canadian government, is facing a situation where it will no longer receive any contracts because of the government's decision to pull out of this field. The company has come up with its own conversion plan depending on the good will of the current government which could, if it wanted to, award the contract to build the Magdalen Island ferry to this shipyard.
We learned again yesterday that the government does not know where it stands. It still does not know whether it will order a new ferry to be built or whether it will purchase one from a foreign shipyard. If the political will existed, the contract would have been awarded to MIL Davie a long time ago, since it has a conversion plan in place and has the facilities to build the ferry. If the government were to proceed on this, it would be killing two birds with one stone, that is it would be keeping our domestic know-how here in Canada and would be conducting research and development and converting former military facilities for civilian purposes.
In conclusion, I have to wonder where all of this is leading. Clearly, this government is guilty of lacking vision and empathy for the situation experienced by hundreds of thousands of Canadians and Quebecers. This government does not know in which direction it is heading. It lacks not only vision, but also the political courage to address the real problems facing people.
The red book is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Personally, I am deeply disappointed and concerned because these are old methods which today have led to public cynicism. People realize that during election campaigns, candidates say just about anything. Once in office, however, they continue to provide the same kind of government and style of administration they once criticized. Nothing changes. This type of cynicism is encouraged and this contradicts the nice statements made in the red book.
How is it that today's Liberals and yesterday's Tories seem to have so much in common? I will conclude on this note, Mr. Speaker, perhaps because there is a common denominator. Both parties are financed by the same persons. They both feed from the same trough and both produce the same results.