Mr. Speaker, on May 13, 2003, I asked the Minister for International Trade a question on softwood lumber. Unfortunately, we are now in the fall of 2003 and still in an impasse. There has been no settlement of the dispute, and as a result, the economy of a number of regions in Quebec and Canada, particularly in the area I represent, has deteriorated badly.
I would like to be assured of one thing by the minister or his representative. This summer we discussed a proposal with the Americans. Now, judging by the decisions in favour of Canada, we realize that there should be no concessions to the Americans under any circumstances, based on the proposal made to us then.
Now we know the Americans have specific deadlines for putting the decisions reached by the international bodies and tribunals into application. Can the government assure me that there will be no concessions forthcoming on our side that would lead to the resumption of negotiations on the agreement proposed this summer, which was rejected, by the Free Trade Lumber Council in particular?
First, can the economic diversification program aimed at dealing with the softwood lumber crisis be extended to give a break to our regional economies? Second, can a support program for businesses be added to the current federal program to deal with the softwood lumber crisis?
We have asked repeatedly, as did businesses, that loan guarantees be provided and that they be consistent with international agreements. These loan guarantees should not compromise Canada's position in the negotiations. However, they would allow our businesses to get through this difficult period and it would especially allow us to not give in to the Americans, in the way things seemed to be going last summer.
I remember that, when I asked the question in May 2003, we were in a situation where industry leaders were learning what was happening through the media, while the minister, who kept saying that he had played a leadership role in coordinating the negotiation on the Canadian side, had told them nothing.
Today we want to ensure that this does not happen again. Can the government give us assurances that there will be no negotiations where we would make too many concessions? We will win the softwood lumber dispute, but we must ensure that plant workers can go on working in their industry.
What is difficult at this time is that several regions such as Témiscouata, Les Basques, Kamouraska and Rivière-du-Loup are suffering the consequences of this softwood lumber crisis and, for several months, have been facing the prospect of finding themselves in dire straits. The profitability of plants is a real problem.
Several employers have been exemplary in the way they have dealt with the situation, but the fact remains that there are expectations with regard to the federal government's position. We want to be sure that there is real support for businesses as well as an extension of the regional economic diversification program to deal with the softwood lumber crisis.
Can the government give us assurances that it will take concrete measures so that we can get out of this crisis? There are still several local stakeholders, particularly small sawmills, that are being hit very hard by the current crisis.