That this House condemn the government for its inability to defend the workers at the General Motors plant in Boisbriand and thus allowing the vehicle assembly sector of the Quebec auto industry to disappear.
Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes.
The issue of the General Motors plant in Boisbriand is a priority. It is as labour critic that I will address the House today. We have known for a long time that there is a problem at the plant. Now the company is threatening to shut it down by September 2002. The reason we decided to raise this issue on an opposition day is to prompt the government to take action on this immediately, before the Quebec auto industry disappears completely. I do not mean to be alarmist, but the industry has been present in Quebec for 37 years. This particular plant is the largest in the province.
Since I have only ten minutes, my colleagues will take over when I am done. However, I will try to give a brief overview of the situation. I hope that, today, we will have a chance to shed some light on this issue and to try our best to find solutions so that the GM plant does not shut down in September 2002.
I must state at the outset that the Bloc Quebecois unreservedly supports the FTQ and its affiliated union, the Canadian Auto Workers or CAW, in their fight to save the Boisbriand plant. If the Boisbriand assembly plant disappears, 1,400 direct jobs will disappear along with it. As well, there are another 9,000 or so indirect jobs with subcontractors, particularly the GM suppliers in the Beauce, the Outaouais, the Eastern Townships and southwestern Montreal, all at risk of closure as well.
The Boisbriand plant manufactured 74,967 vehicles in 2000, which is 7.75% of the total Canadian production. It has even been cited as a model plant for all other GM plants worldwide.
In 1987, Quebec and Ottawa made a $220 million loan to GM, with a 30 year term, that is until 2017. The preferential rate of interest at the time was 9.5%. The long term financing of this loan coasts GM a good $20 million annually in interest charges to Quebec and Ottawa. The costs are shared fifty-fifty. Quebecers have paid for this loan to GM through their various taxes, and will continue to do so.
The main condition attached to the loan at the time was that the company maintain a minimal level of activity at Boisbriand, which it obviously has not. Moreover, GM is not required to pay back any of the capital before the due date of 2017. Canada—which means almost exclusively Ontario—has always been among the major beneficiaries of investments in the auto industry, but not a single dollar in investments has been announced for Quebec in the first six months of 2001. During the previous two quarters, Ontario had ranked second in investments behind the United States. Various investments of several hundred million dollars each had been announced, particularly by GM in Oshawa, totalling $300 million, by Daimler Chrysler in Windsor, and by Toyota in Cambridge .
This closure represents a major loss for the region and confirms the resounding failure of federal policy. No attempt whatsoever was even made to influence the location of Canada's auto industry. While Quebec and the city of Boisbriand were frantically making representations to GM headquarters to save their plant, the federal government settled for doing the bare minimum.
The Bloc Quebecois will see to it that Ottawa answers for its lack of leadership and concern for the situation of the Boisbriand workers.
Far from representing what is called the economy of the past, today's auto industry is the envy of countries from all around the world. It is one of the greatest users of computer technology and robotics; it uses the most advanced system technologies and material sciences and employs highly qualified workers and also engineers. We have been fighting for a long time to save the GM plant, and unions have done an absolutely extraordinary work to this end.
I myself took part in a demonstration by GM employees, with several of my colleagues representing the region, including the hon. members for Terrebonne—Blainville and Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, who are concerned with this problem.
Let us not forget that these employees work in high technology. They make good salaries. So, not only 1,400 direct jobs, but also almost 10,000 indirect jobs will be totally lost. This makes no sense whatsoever. The whole Quebec auto industry is declining. For years, investments have been made in Ontario. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent on new plants in Ontario, and Quebec has always been left out.
Now that we are in dire straits, Canada is not supporting us. We need its help; we need our money, which we are sending it anyway. It should give it back to where it is necessary. We do not want to go through a second Mirabel in the region.
Mirabel has really hurt. Who salvaged it? It is the Quebec government, by making it a duty free zone. We are slowly salvaging the white elephant that Mirabel was to the federal government. It is the Liberals who messed up. Today, Mirabel is regaining momentum, through hard work, because the Quebec government decided to take steps to save the region.
The Quebec government has done its share. It has invested in the upgrading of the plant. It has always been present, but now the ball is in the federal government's court.
The justice minister was in Detroit. He met with the GM management. He did nothing to obtain some developments on the issue. He simply said “I do not know what program could work in this instance”. That is not what we need to hear. We need to hear that there will be some positive, real and immediate action taken because September 2002 is only a few months away. Once the plant is closed, reopening it will be impossible and nothing will convince me of the contrary.
GM even threatened to dismantle the plant. This makes no sense whatsoever. We pay, we give money to the government to build a plant and the owners will now dismantle the building and move it elsewhere. This is rubbish. We cannot allow such a thing.
We must send people to Detroit. The federal government must wake up, send ministers and lobbyists to Detroit and see to it that they negotiate some arrangement with GM in order to save the plant so it can stay in Quebec. It is just unthinkable that there would no longer be an auto industry in Quebec. Once again, the federal government will show how utterly useless it is. This is unacceptable.
I raise the issue of Mirabel again because it is an issue that has been very important. Air Transat, which flew out of Mirabel, is now moving to Dorval. Once again, we are dealing with a hot potato. Why? Because the federal government has not kept its promises.
This issue needs to be raised, discussed in the House, we need to talk about it and the government needs to take real action on the matter. And it must not try to pull the wool over our eyes. The government has the money. There is a surplus. We have a surplus of billions of dollars. We are able to invest, to come to an agreement with GM to keep the plant open. The Boisbriand plant will close, period. It is one of the five most productive plants in the world.
When it was time to get this plant in order, when it came time for employees to improve production, they did it. The employees set to work. They held up their end of the bargain. Management was satisfied with the results. Now, they are going to say, “No way, it has got to go”. We know how this industry operates. It lobbies, and it lobbies hard.
I do not have much time to go into all of the repercussions of this on employees. However, it is not hard to imagine the impact this is having on the workers. When, over a period of five years, employees are told that they will lose their jobs the following year, it puts constant pressure on them, and they do not need to deal with that.
Today, I am calling for a serious debate on this issue. The government needs to roll up its sleeves and act, to do what it has to do, live up to its responsibilities and ensure that the GM plant in Boisbriand stays open.