Mr. Chair, I am pleased to take part in this debate, not only because it seems that I will be the last to speak in the House in 2004, but especially because I want, with my colleagues from the Bloc, to continue to denounce the window dressing of the last few hours. We would have liked another outcome with respect to the federal government's support measures.
I very sincerely believe that the Bloc Québécois and the other opposition parties tried, in recent weeks and months, to convince the government, before and after the election, to give our textile and apparel industry the support it needed.
What happened? Last week, the Bloc Québécois, through the members for Beauharnois—Salaberry, Berthier—Maskinongé, Drummond and myself, put a number of questions to the government about the measures it planned to take to help the textile and apparel industry face the new situation that will come about on January 1, 2005, that is the elimination of import quotas for apparel and textiles coming from developing countries in particular.
In response to our questions, the government, through the Minister of Finance in particular, simply said that we were being impatient, that the process was underway, that there were consultations with the industry, and so on. That was last Thursday. Today, around 3:45 p.m., in a mad rush, the same Minister of Finance announced a so-called assistance package which is nothing more than the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Finance seven months ago.
Seven months ago, in April 2004, the Standing Committee on Finance unanimously adopted a report containing three recommendations. These were submitted to the government, but nothing had happened until today. I am sorry to say that there is worse. Two weeks ago, at the Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment—in fact, my hon. colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup was with me—we asked a number of questions of the officials present, who told us that, regarding the finance committee report—containing the three recommendations I just referred to—which was first tabled in April, and again in October, following the June 28 election, they would not have an answer until March 8.
Two weeks ago, public servants were working on a response that was supposed to be ready on March 8. We thought that was completely out of line, considering that the problems were already right in front of us. And yet it seemed as if the government were working to rule. As hon. members know, when a committee tables its report, the government has 180 days to reply. So, the government announced that it would take the time it needed to answer the committee, and that might be until March.
That was two weeks ago. Last week, as I mentioned, the Minister of Finance had nothing better to say to us than that we were too impatient. Today, they announce the three measures that have been known since April. But now it is too late. In the meantime, jobs have been lost and investments have not been made. In the town of Huntingdon, in particular, the closing of six factories has been announced, putting 900 people out of work.
If the government, including the ministers of finance, industry and international trade, had done its homework after the election and come to us in October with a plan, perhaps some of the decisions made in the past few hours could have been postponed and reviewed. But no, there had to be a catastrophe in the Huntingdon region and a tempest in a teapot, producing one tiny drop of weak tea.
These three recommendations were the subject of a consensus in April, and we agreed with then completely. Even in the committee's opinion, these three recommendations were totally inadequate. Reading the report is quite interesting, though. The committee proposes taking three very easy actions. For the most part, they are already in place.
The first was to maintain the duty remission for importing manufacturers, those who import and are currently entitled to duty remissions on a certain volume of their imports. It was recommended this program be kept. Secondly, it was suggested that tariffs be removed on inputs, the fabric or fibre for making fabrics which are not produced—or no longer produced—in Canada and Quebec. Thirdly, it was suggested that the system of duties needed some housecleaning. In this sector, there is much that is arbitrary. Over the years, a patchwork tower of Babel has been constructed.
The government rushed to respond to the report of the Standing Committee on Finance. It was obvious during the press conference I attended. As I was saying, it was too little too late.
I will give an example. Among the three measures announced, there is the one to remove custom duties from textile products and fibres that we do not or no longer produce in Canada and Quebec. The Bloc Québécois entirely agrees with this measure since it had asked for it. This was even part of our election platform. However, the problem is that we need to know exactly which fibres and textiles we produce and which we do not.
To that end, we have asked the Canadian Trade Tribunal to conduct a study on this, which will take them more than a few days or weeks and may even take several months.
Meanwhile, apparel and textile producers will have to pay these duties without knowing whether the fibre or the textile they are importing will be considered a product not made in Canada or Quebec. They still do not know whether they will benefit from this measure, but they will have to pay out this money in the meantime. It says so in black and white in the government press release.
Had this measure been announced three or four months ago, it might have been possible to hope that the Canadian International Trade Tribunal would state, shortly, that a certain fabric or textile is manufactured in Canada and that we are able to meet market needs, and that this is not the case for a certain other fabric or textile. But the situation is otherwise. The resolution of a problem has just been put off until a later date. This does not alleviate the uncertainty these manufacturers are currently experiencing.
This is an example of what could have been avoided if the government had responded within a reasonable timeframe to the report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
As I mentioned, the Standing Committee on Finance considered its report to be insufficient. In fact, these are the easiest measures to implement because they relate to customs tariffs on textiles and fabrics produced here or elsewhere. However, a great deal of work still needs to be done. So, this was an easy answer.
We could have gone much further. For example, the government has not answered a very simple question: does it intend to maintain custom tariffs on textiles and clothings that will be imported even without quotas, be they from China or India? We expect such tariffs will indeed be maintained for some time.
The government is telling us that duty remissions over the next two years will be 100%. I gather that customs tariffs on our imports of clothing and textiles from China and India will be maintained. I am using these examples, but many other countries, particularly ones in Latin America, export their products here. However, we still do not have an answer. I looked in the press release and in the technical notes, but it is not there. I think this is it. However, no guarantees are being made right now. The government could very well have decided to rapidly reduce them.
We are told that the duty remissions will decrease gradually in the third, fourth and fifth years. At what rate? That we do not know. I am assuming that this is what we are being told about the duty on imported apparel and textiles being reduced in the third, fourth and fifth years, but there is nothing specific written down about that. I have to deduce it. This is a bit like playing Clue. I imagine some of us will have a chance to play that with our children over the holidays. In my case, I hope it will be the junior version.
So we will be forced to reach this kind of conclusion, whereas normally we would have expected the government to have been very clear on this.
There is one other element I want to address. Why not be like the Americans, that is allow Canadian textiles to be processed off-shore and then brought back into Canada duty free, as the U.S. does with the Caribbean.
Lastly, as I have already said, this is too late and too little. I hope that the industry will be smart enough to tell the government that. They could also have announced a very simple measure: maintaining the quotas on imports of apparel and textiles from China for the next few years, so that our textile and apparel industries would have the opportunity to develop, to keep their jobs, but also to keep our regions alive.
Thank you and Happy New Year.