Mr. Speaker, I asked for four minutes of speaking time for myself and two minutes for the parliamentary secretary to answer the question that I asked in June about mass layoffs. At that time, I asked the Minister of Human Resources Development and of Western Economic Diversification whether he agreed with giving the Sorel employment centre a $2.2-million fund because of the mass layoffs at Soreltex, Tioxide and Beloit in the Sorel-Tracy region.
Further to that answer, this request for $2.2 million more was made by the employment centre through the normal channels at the regional level and then on to the national level, and the employment centre got a good hearing from senior officials.
I asked the minister to confirm it for me, and then had a second question concerning the specific program for mass layoffs that was abolished. The minister's first answer to me was completely off topic, referring to the fact that I had been a Conservative member. It was an arrogant, incompetent, flippant, almost cowardly answer, showing the minister's unconcern for the workers' needs and the respect owed them and his lack of attention to a recommendation from his own senior officials.
Since I raised my second question, the Sorel employment centre received more funds to help the victims of mass layoffs, thanks to the remarkable work of senior officials in Sorel, the director of the employment centre and senior officials throughout the Quebec region. One thing that has not been restored is the specific program for mass layoffs.
Now, when there are mass layoffs, the general fund is drawn on and if it is used up, the special fund is no longer available. Restoring this fund would provide assistance when a disaster like the one in Sorel-Tracy strikes, where there were two major shutdowns, Beloit and Soreltex, in quick succession. In that case, the general fund was used since the special fund is now included in the general fund and there was no more money. So we now have a situation where we have no way of getting back any funds to deal with the situation.
It seems to me that reinstating this fund would be essential to good management. The minister's answer was vague, once again. As I see it, this mass layoff fund should not only be reinstated but should be flexible as well.
For instance, a number of workers at Soreltex have from 25 to 35 years of experience, but their average age is between 50 and 55, so they are not eligible for POWA, the adjustment program for workers 55 and over, so they fall between the cracks, because they cannot be retrained. Often they do not even have a high-school diploma. They only went to grade school, and they cannot be retrained for work other than the kind they have done for 35 years.
Perhaps this mass layoff fund could provide some form of remuneration for people between the ages of 50 and 55 who fall between the cracks, lose their homes and their savings and end up on welfare. That is why I think the fund should be reinstated and expanded so that employment centres can tailor the program to specific cases and are not hampered by criteria that are too restrictive.
I hope that today, the minister will have a more open mind on the matter than he did when he answered my questions.