Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Finance presented on Wednesday, October 20, be concurred in.
I take this rather unusual step to draw the House's attention to the fact that the apparel industry is in crisis and needs the attention of the House of Commons. There is a very simple remedy found within the first report of the finance committee. It gives direction to the Minister of Finance to give relief to this industry in crisis and more specifically, from a self-interest point of view, to the 43 garment manufacturers in the riding of Winnipeg Centre. They have made representations to me that this is in fact an issue of urgency that should be dealt with in this session of Parliament. I also raise this matter because we are fast coming to a deadline where the opportunity to provide this relief will disappear.
It would be wise for me to back up a little to explain specifically what is in this first report of the finance committee and what measures we are asking the Minister of Finance to take on behalf of the garment manufacturers in my riding, and in fact the garment manufacturers in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and everywhere that this critical industry is located.
The issue is simple. Currently, there are duty remission orders that are in effect to help the garment industry cope with the pressures of international trade and globalization, and the pressures in recent years. Those duty remission orders have allowed these companies to keep their doors open in spite of overwhelming odds and adversity that this new global marketplace has put on them, and specific actions from this government that I will get into later. These duty remission orders are set to expire on December 31.
On January 1, 2005, these garment manufacturers will no longer enjoy this duty remission situation granted by the government. I can tell members without any hesitation or without any fear of contradiction that as soon as those duty remission orders expire these businesses will topple like dominoes. In my riding, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and everywhere we have a garment industry, these businesses will fail and with them will go Canadian jobs. I do not say this to be romantic or to raise the level of rhetoric. I am stating a fact.
I raise this in the House of Commons today and take the rather unusual step of highjacking the orders of the day because these garment manufacturers have tried every other avenue of recourse to get through to the Minister of Finance the urgency of their message. They have lobbied the Minister of Finance in every way imaginable. They have asked members of Parliament from every party to lobby the Minister of Finance, which we have dutifully done in the months leading up to this urgency that we find ourselves in now.
However, we are out of time. December 31 is around the corner. Parliament will adjourn in a few weeks and we will not have the extension signed that would extend the duty remission orders that would allow these businesses to stay open. It is on the Minister of Finance's desk, ready to be signed. A unanimous report from the Standing Committee on Finance has directed him to sign it, not once but twice.
In the last Parliament, in April 2004, the Standing Committee on Finance dealt with this issue. It heard the legitimate grievances of the garment industry, acknowledged their concerns and wrote a recommendation in its report saying that the Minister of Finance should sign the extension of the duty remission orders that are due to expire on December 31. Nothing happened. Then we had an election.
The situation got even more urgent in July, August and September, until finally a new Standing Committee on Finance was constituted. Its very first order of business in fact was to revisit this critically important issue because the clock was running out. The finance committee resubmitted a report to the 38th Parliament. I have it right here. I will not bore members with all the details but I will read the first recommendation. It states:
That the federal government immediately extend, for a further seven years, the duty remission orders covering the apparel sector that are set to expire on 31 December 2004.
Our Minister of Finance should take this as a directive. This should be a marching order for our Minister of Finance, not something to be shuffled away. I do not know who he is listening to, but he is not listening to the garment industry. He is not listening to those representing the workers in those garment industry sectors who stand to lose thousands of jobs.
In my riding of Winnipeg Centre 400 jobs have been lost already directly due to the meddling of the government and its failure to sign duty remission orders. That is 400 good paying unionized jobs with benefits. These are not stereotypical sweatshops in some old fashioned garment industry. These are bright, clean, modern workplaces with a day care centre, a cafeteria, and good paying middle income jobs with benefits. They are gone. Imagine what would have to be done to attract 400 jobs like that to a riding. People would pave the streets with gold. We have knowingly and willingly allowed them to disappear from my riding.
That is the not the only one. That is just Western Glove. I can talk about Gemini Fashions and Richlu Sportswear. There are 43 of these garment manufacturers in my riding. I can say without any hesitation or rhetoric that they will topple like dominoes if the Minister of Finance does not put pen to paper before December 31.
I apologize to my colleagues for hijacking the order of business today, but this is an emergency. This is urgent. This is real business that the House of Commons should be addressing. This is not some abstract esoteric debate we are having. This is reality.
The garment industry runs on real time, not on government time, and it cannot wait for bureaucrats to have another go at this. Again, I do not know who is advising our Minister of Finance, but it is not sound advice. He should listen to the real authorities on this issue. He should listen to the garment manufacturers who want to keep their jobs in Canada, but are being forced to outsource those jobs because of an unwillingness by the government to recognize the critical important of this industry.
In other industry sectors, it seems, on the basis of a phone call, the chequebook comes out and $100 million cheques get written. I am not going to criticize any one industry sector or the government intervening to help a sector, but for God's sake help the clothing and apparel sector today because we have a deadline looming.
I raise this with some emotion and passion because my inner city riding in downtown Winnipeg is the third poorest riding in the country. The largest single opportunity for employment is the garment sector. It is a gateway for new Canadians to get into the mainstream economy because the face of the garment sector worker today is largely Filipino, Laotian, Cambodian, or Eritrean. All of the immigrant groups that are settling in my riding more often than not find their first job opportunity in the garment sector. Maybe their children go on to become the nurses, doctors and lawyers in the next generation, but they get their start, and it is a good start, in the garment sector. We cannot provide those jobs without some assistance from the government.
I urge my colleagues to look at the first report from the Standing Committee on Finance. It is only five pages long. It is of critical importance and value. It outlines the extent of these duty remission orders and the dollar value of them. It is not a huge amount of money. Nationwide it is only about $40 million. One would say that surely the industry could cope and adjust to this relatively small loss, but people have to understand that this is the straw that broke the camel's back.
It has been coping and adjusting with incredible market forces and adversarial situations for a decade or more now, 15 years really, because these duty remission orders were put in place to help the industry cope with the free trade agreement and with NAFTA. Granted, they were interim measures.
I do not believe these duty remission orders should go on forever. They are still interim measures until we can put together an action plan to help the industry cope in some more permanent way, such as, increases in productivity or whatever it is going to take to help that industry survive. In the interim, do not cut it off like this. We are standing at the edge of a precipice and we are about to be pushed over. Build a ramp so these duty remission orders can be phased out perhaps in time, but not this sudden jump.
I can tell everyone that the garment industry has to have lead time. The garment industry already has its next year's production scheduled and has planned nine months ahead. It has to plan in advance. It has planned with the confidence that the Minister of Finance would listen to it and extend the duty remission orders.
All of these companies and factories that I am talking about have set their 2005 production schedules with the comfort that the duty remission orders would in fact be extended. Yet, month after month goes by and it does not get signed and they cannot get through to the Minister of Finance in any other way.
This is why we are taking this unusual step today. They call, but their phone calls do not get returned. They do not get meetings with the Minister of Finance. They get passed off to some underling, some bureaucrat, who clearly has a bias against this type of duty remission order because they are advising the minister not to sign it in spite of overwhelming evidence of how necessary it is from one coast to the other.
It is not just my riding of Winnipeg Centre that will have catastrophic effects if these duty remission orders are not signed, but it is downtown Montreal, where there is a rich and vibrant garment sector that is hanging on by its fingernails. The riding of Vancouver East, my colleague reminds me, has a vibrant garment manufacturing sector which has also been subjected to overwhelming contrary forces.
It is a tribute, a testimony, to the strength of these Canadian nationalists, who own these companies, that they have managed to keep their jobs in Canada to date. It is almost a miracle, really. All of the evidence or all of the reason and logic would tell them to give up and do their manufacturing offshore, to do their design here and keep their books and accounts here, but do all their manufacturing offshore, because it just does not add up.
However, to their credit they have been creative and resourceful. They have tried to keep those jobs here in Canada. We are not helping them for a lousy $40 million. I am not saying that to be flippant. I know it is a lot of money. It is $40 million spread out over the whole industry. “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost”, and so the poem goes. For the want of this small amount of intervention on behalf of the government, we are about to lose this industry. I tell all hon. members, it will not be coming back. It will not be an interim plant closure. Once they are closed, they are gone.
Hon. members can tell from my tone that I am frustrated by this. I am frustrated because there are representatives from virtually every party who have personally and individually tried to reason with the Minister of Finance, first by letter then by phone calls and then by stopping him in the hallways, in the gymnasium, anywhere we can find him. We are begging, pleading, and imploring him to sign the paper that sits on his desk and save an industry.
There is no other single, more important thing he could do to preserve Canadian jobs in this session of Parliament than to sign the duty remission orders that we find here in the first report of the Standing Committee on Finance. If he needed more reason, he should listen to the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce because it recommended the same thing. We have two reports from the Standing Committee on Finance, a report from the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, all telling the minister to sign the duty remission orders. What do we get? A deafening silence. What does it take to get through to these people? We have an emergency on our hands.
Perhaps nobody says it better than an actual practitioner in the trade. Gemini Fashions of Canada Limited in my riding just closed a plant with 150 employees. It is a block away from my constituency office.
The owner said, “Dear Minister, Gemini Fashions is a company in Winnipeg with a very proud tradition in Canadian apparel manufacturing. We just had to close our state-of-the-art outerwear manufacturing plant on Notre Dame Avenue in Winnipeg. This facility employed 150 skilled workers. This closure was a direct result of Prime Minister Chrétien's least developed country initiative to allow duty free and quota free imports into Canada from some 48 low cost countries”.
That was a unilateral and arbitrary move that the then Prime Minister made without consulting the industry to allow least developed nations to export products into Canada without duty. The problem is that everybody knew. Global corporations simply moved their production to least developed nations and they now manage to get their product into Canada without duty. It was a bad idea. They were advised against it.
The owner of Gemini Fashion points out: “But this action was done without consideration of the Canadian apparel industry and rendered many Canadian manufacturing assets useless and nearly worthless. There has been no effective or meaningful consideration afforded to those most affected by this unilateral action of the Canadian government, and without meaningful consultation in our industry. We cannot turn the clock back now but there is something you can do. You can pass into law the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Finance completed on March 31-04, enclosed herewith for your reference”.
Here we have a garment manufacturer who has just had to close his factory, his family business, and lay off 150 skilled workers, appealing to the minister in a letter in April 2004 to please implement the recommendations of the Standing Committee at that time. That was six months ago. The situation was urgent then. The situation is desperate now, because essentially we have two weeks to go in this Parliament to try to reason with the Minister of Finance, to implore him once again in this more public way to please sign these duty remission orders so that this industry can live to fight another day.
That is what we are asking. We are asking the minister to give the industry a pardon, what could we call it--