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House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), as amended, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise after passing the amendment. We have a Liberal sponsor and a seconder from the Conservative Party, and the Bloc has already indicated that its members will support the bill. I am sure the NDP will as well. The hon. member is indicating that.

This may very well become law. That is something, because in the last Parliament, the member for Malpeque had a private member's bill that did not make it to the floor of the House. I did have one. It was somewhat different from this, but it lost by three votes, 96 to 93. It was a sad day in the life of volunteer firefighters. However, we have come a long way since then. The cooperation that exists in the House with the present government will create a truly valuable piece of legislation and recognize a special group of people in Canada who truly do need recognizing.

The last time I spoke to this matter was when I had my bill before the House a couple of years ago. At that time I said there was a group of unselfish, dedicated Canadian men and women who lay down their lives on a volunteer basis every day for their fellow man and they needed to be recognized in a concrete way for what they gave to society as a whole. When we give to society as a whole, I believe it is society as a whole that should recognize that contribution.

Through the amendment to the tax code, that is exactly what will happen. Canadians in a general way will be able to recognize the contributions of volunteer firefighters and emergency responders.

I had an issue with the amendment that was brought forward. I tabled a bill earlier, but it is not in the rotation yet. The standards that I had were somewhat different from this, and the dollar value was different. The bill that was previously tabled by the member for Cape Breton—Canso was also somewhat different. To do the best for the firefighters and emergency responders, we have agreed to meet in the middle. That was a major step to making this happen today. I know there is a long way to go. I hope the government will last long enough to get this through. I am almost tempted to ask for the motion to see it through all stages at this point, but I am not sure that would happen. I do not want to jeopardize the bill in any way.

The preamble of my bill states that the deduction should apply to income from any source. I know that is the intent of the mover of the bill on the government side of the House. I want to ensure that point is taken.

This was a situation I found myself in when I was a volunteer firefighter. I was a volunteer firefighter for 17 years. We did not draw an hourly wage when we were practising or firefighting, so we had no income. There was a tax deduction at that time of $500 based on the income that we earned as volunteers. However, that aspect of the bill says that it applies to any income from any source. Therefore, it can be used on income from a person's regular job.

That will truly be a benefit to volunteer firefighters, emergency responders and their families. Speaking from experience, when one is a volunteer firefighter, it is a family issue. When there was a call, I would roll out of bed. It could be 3 a.m and 32° below zero outside. Most of the time when I got out to the driveway, my car was started. I do not know who did that, but I think it was my wife. She would go out ahead of me to get things rolling. The stress and the angst that exist in that atmosphere, when we are out protecting other people's property and lives, is shared throughout the family.

I am grateful to have been the co-sponsor the bill and to get up to speak to the amendment which was passed.

The member for Cape Breton—Canso spent some time in western Canada, and he learned a few things there. However, he went back to his roots in Cape Breton, and that is from where he is promoting the bill.

It is truly a national issue. The last time I dealt with this, I sent out letters to every fire department in Canada. The response I got back was encouraging. One thing I tried to point out was fire departments and rescue teams were having trouble attracting volunteers and retaining them. The amount of training it takes in this day and age to fight the type of modern chemicals and building materials is incredible. The amount of training it takes to be an EMT and to go out in ambulances is incredible, and it takes a huge amount of dedication.

We have said that if a person puts in hours training or on actual duty, those hours combined should be applied toward the tax deduction.

I want to read one letter I received from a firefighter the last time that we debated this. This comes from the village of Nobleford from Marvin VandenHoek. He is on the Nobleford volunteer fire department and he sums it up pretty well. He said:

I would just briefly like to express our support for [at that time] Bill C-325 regarding the amendment to the deductions that can be claimed by volunteer emergency services personnel. As a member of a small town fire department, I know first hand how much we do to provide this service to our community. Although we do it primarily because we enjoy it, it takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication to keep everything operating smoothly. There is no such thing as doing a half job in this service. People are depending on us and often trust us with their lives. Also, because the service is becoming more and more complex, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new members. We need ways to encourage people to join. Therefore since we are, in essence, providing a public service free of charge, I sincerely believe that the government of Canada should be doing everything in its power to enable us to continue.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on this issue. I think it is something that Canadians in general need to recognize.

Regarding the issue of the cost to the treasury for this, there were different numbers thrown around last time. I disagreed with the numbers that the government came up with as to how many volunteers would qualify and what it would cost. We do not know how many will meet the criteria of the bill. We do not know what tax bracket most of them are in, so we have no way of quantifying that. However, if we look, in comparison on the other side of the ledger, at the value of the service they provide this country free of charge, it is absolutely astronomical.

The emergency responders is only one sector of volunteerism in the country. My colleague alluded to the fact that this is not putting down any of the other volunteer work that goes on in Canada. Without them, the country would grind to a halt. People are out there day after day supporting the Heart and Stroke fund, the Kidney Foundation, juvenile diabetes, all these issues. These people do a tremendous job.

If we can get this aspect through, I believe a vast number of Canadians will be safer in their homes. They will be protected by people who not only have the dedication and the heart to do that job, but they have the wherewithal to do it. They will have the proper training and equipment.

Volunteer firefighters in every one of our ridings raise funds for all kinds of things. People in my town of Picture Butte have raised funds to buy a Zamboni for the skating rink. They have raised funds to buy their own trucks and equipment such as the jaws of life. All that fundraising went on within the community. Whenever people in the community have a project they want help with, the first stop is at the volunteer fire department to get that association onside. They know it has the ability, the desire and the understanding of what it takes to make a strong community, by working together and looking out for each other. The firefighters get out and do those jobs.

I am very pleased with what has happened tonight. I know we will be hearing more on this from the government. I encourage the government to support this initiative. It is doable.

My friend from the Bloc asked about the procedures that it would take to get this done. They are already in place. All the organizations keep track of time and their members. They know how many hours are put in by each individual. If those are given to the municipality or the association in charge, it is a simple thing for it to issue certificates and put them in with their tax rolls. It is not a complex issue, and it is very much needed.

I look forward to moving on this. It would be nice if we could move through all stages tonight, but I do not think we will push for that. When this comes back for second reading, and I believe this feeling of support exists throughout the House, maybe at that time we could ask for a motion that would see the bill go through all stages immediately.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will make it clear from the start that my party, the Bloc Québécois, is in favour of this bill introduced by the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso. We support it because we feel these are good measures. I would be surprised to see opposition from the members of this House to a bill that is so worthwhile to those who get involved on a volunteer basis in emergency situations or disasters.

I will be telling hon. members about two disasters, one I experienced in Saguenay, and the other the great ice storm of 1998.

I hope that this legislation will also apply to those who volunteer during disasters, such as the 1996 floods we experienced in the Saguenay. I had a very close connection with this because I was a manager for the Ville de Chicoutimi at that time, with responsibility for emergency measures.

Official bodies like public safety agencies or the Red Cross cannot always respond to the needs of disaster victims. When disaster strikes, volunteers provide the public with reassurance as well as ensuring their safety.

I have seen victims with my own eyes, the ones accommodated at the Chicoutimi campus of the Université du Québec, which was the command centre for our flood situation, the Saguenay flood, the ones sheltered in the schools. I have seen vast numbers of them, people who have lost everything to the flood, people who had to be evacuated as a precaution, and others who had to be relocated. A whole army of volunteers was there to help them.

During the 1996 floods, the Red Cross directed the work of some 180 volunteers. I might point out, speaking of the Red Cross, that somewhere in Quebec, at least twice every day, the Red Cross intervenes in some emergency situation.

There are other organizations, such as the St.Vincent de Paul Society, whose 600 volunteers provided approximately 175,000 hours of assistance to the flood victims. Then there were the bush pilots, the divers, the ham radio operators, who turned out to help

As a result of this ecological disaster,the Saguenay region—because this was the area most hit by the flood—found itself with 16,000 people who needed to be fed, housed and even clothed. Such a huge task requires committed volunteers, citizens who want to help their community.

There was also another crisis: the ice storm we went through in Quebec in 1998. That is another example that illustrates the importance of volunteer work in emergency situations. Through their dedication, magnificent work and commitment, the 2,000 Red Cross volunteers were able to meet the many needs of those who were affected by this disaster. This event confirmed the theory that without volunteers, we would be nowhere.

I can attest to that. This happened, not only in my region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, but in the region of Montérégie and in greater Montreal. In my region, several hundred volunteers took part in the huge collection of firewood to help the victims of the ice storm that hit part of Quebec. Several thousand cords of firewood were delivered to these homes for heat because there was no electricity.

Volunteers who give their time in emergency situations do so in order to help out their fellow citizens. They do so for humanitarian reasons and to help their community. However, we know that volunteers end up using their own money in these situations. Bill C-273 provides for the reimbursement of some of the expenses these volunteers incur to help disaster victims.

All that explains why we support Bill C-273. I have here a letter sent to me by the Red Cross director general in my riding, Mr. Donald Harvey. He supports this bill and he claims that it will encourage more people to help in search and rescue activities or in emergencies or disasters. I agree with him.

This bill will also make it possible to help citizens who are struggling with special problems that require an intervention by civil defence.

This involves a legitimate form of compensation. We can even suppose that it will encourage Quebeckers to volunteer during search and rescue activities during emergency situations. This is a reasonable, compensatory, social measure contributing to public safety.

Earlier, I asked a question of the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso who introduced the bill. I asked about control measures that should be in place from the start. I think it is necessary to set up simple and effective control measures. We must ensure that they are hassle-free.

The bill stipulates that municipalities must issue certificates confirming the volunteer hours worked. This should not be an extra burden on the already scarce resources of municipalities. The application of this bill should not generate too much work for those who have to write reports and fill in forms, nor should it force them to hire more staff.

The bill must not result in too many extra expenses for the citizens, municipalities or other appropriate authorities. Otherwise, we have failed in our objective. This was pointed out to me by a municipal representative who supports this bill and warned me about control measures.

Who does not know a volunteer personally? In my riding there was the flood; elsewhere there was the ice storm. I can say that in disasters and emergency situations, nothing gets done without volunteers.

In closing, Bill C-273 has as its goal the common good and it reflects the values the Bloc Québécois defends here in Ottawa. Thus, I would like to reiterate my support, and that of my party, for this bill, but emphasize that we want it to be simple and effective in its application.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

December 14th, 2004 / 6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding the motion adopted by the House on Wednesday, December 8, 2004, that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration be authorized to travel to Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto and Kitchener—Waterloo, it should read “in April 2005” and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), as amended, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to this very special bill. I also commend my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso for bringing forward this initiative.

As my colleague from Alberta rightfully mentioned, this bill was debated in the House before and I agree with him that it is most unfortunate that it was four votes shy of a victory. Why it did not pass, I will never know. I know how mildly upset the hon. gentleman was at that time, but he has a good-natured temperament and as Saskatchewan beat Edmonton in the last playoff game, he understands defeat. However I know he is a very happy man today because he is a very strong advocate for our firefighters and first responders.

Again, I thank the hon. member from Cape Breton. I also thank my colleagues in the Bloc for supporting this initiative.

One of the things that is overlooked tremendously is when firefighters, especially those who are volunteers have basic training every Tuesday night. In Fall River where I live every Tuesday night the firefighters get together. They practise, train and do a great job. They truly love what they are doing. That applies to all the firefighters at the other community halls throughout the area I represent. They never know when that phone call is going to come in or when that bell is going to ring.

I can only imagine in my greatest depth of fear what it must have been like in West Lincoln when Mark Woerlen lost his wife and seven children in a house fire. I pray to God that no one on the planet ever has to go through that. It was tragic for the family, and we extend our condolences to the family, we can never do enough to offer our sentiments for their grief. The first people on the scene, the first responders, were firefighters. Imagine the horror they must have felt.

This bill will assist them financially and will recognize their sacrifices in terms of the hours they put in, but it will never replace the horror that they feel. I mention this because we should be concentrating on further assistance for firefighters when it comes to incidents of that nature.

Every day in this country three people die from a fire, either in their home, their business or their vehicle. Usually the first people on the scene are first responders, firefighters, search and rescue, people of that nature. It takes a unique and very brave individual to enter a building when everyone else is leaving.

We only need to reflect upon what happened in the United States on September 11. We saw the firefighters and the other first responders. We heard the stories of what they did.

This is a bill that we wholeheartedly support. We are very glad to see it. We hope that we can move this bill forward very quickly. With cooperation from the four parties there is no reason it cannot be fast tracked to third reading, sent to the Senate and make it happen very soon.

I also have a private member's bill that recognizes volunteers. Volunteerism in Nova Scotia alone is a $2 billion activity. Some $2 billion of economic activity is driven by volunteers alone.

According to my bill, people who volunteer in a registered organization such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis, a church or the legion and who put in 250 hours a year or more should be able to claim a $1,000 tax deduction.

I am very hopeful with the passing of this bill in the very near future that we can quite possibly revisit the other volunteers who are out there, such as the people who volunteer with Meals on Wheels.

Friends of mine in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia are with the Lions Club and they drive people all the way into Dartmouth and Halifax for their medical appointments, shopping and so on. They do not ask anything in return. They do not get a per diem for their mileage. They just do it out of the goodness of their hearts. That money comes out of their own pockets. They do it because it is the neighbourly thing to do. They do it because as the Lions Club says, “We are here to serve”. They do not ask for anything in return.

I am hopeful that in the near future there will be an opportunity for us to stand in the House and recognize all the volunteers in Canada. I hope we will be able to offer them not only recognition but a financial consideration with regard to their income tax at the end of the year.

One of the nicest things about where I live in Fall River is I happen to know most of the volunteers at the Fall River fire hall. There is a fire hydrant right in front of my home which knocks $10 off my insurance, thank you very much. The reality is I can sleep at night knowing very well that if anything happens to my neighbours or to me, almost instantaneously someone from that fire hall will be there to help us.

I have seen it happen many times in our area, be it a brush fire, someone who had a heart attack, someone who cut their leg with a chain saw. In any kind of incident they are always there to help. They do not ask any questions. It does not matter what the incident is. All they want to do is help. They do not ask for anything in return, except perhaps a cold beer and pizza after their training on Tuesday nights. That is something we can handle. They are some of our finest Canadians.

I want to say how proud the New Democratic Party is to support the bill. We also want to thank the hon. member for Lethbridge for his work in the previous Parliament. We thank the Bloc Québécois for its steadfast support. We also thank the member for Cape Breton--Canso. This is another great idea, although it might have been copied a bit, that comes from Nova Scotia. What else would we expect from a maritimer?

On behalf of the federal New Democratic Party we salute all the firefighters of this country. We hope for speedy passage of the bill.

At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say Merry Christmas to you, all members of Parliament in the House and members of the Senate, all the pages, and everyone who works on Parliament Hill, and I wish everyone a very Happy New Year.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to engage in debate today with my fellow hon. colleagues on the matter of Bill C-273 sponsored by the hon. member for Cape Breton--Canso.

It is a particular pleasure to have the member for Malpeque in the House tonight considering all the work that he has done on this matter in the past, as well as the member for Lethbridge. It is also a pleasure to have the support of the two other parties. Everybody is pulling in the same direction on this issue. It is nice to see this recognition of the work of volunteer emergency workers in our country.

As I understand the bill, it is supposed to provide a graduated tax deduction to qualifying emergency service volunteers based on the number of hours volunteered. Basically, the more they volunteer the more they would receive in tax assistance. Moreover, the deduction would be claimed against income from all sources. Let us look at what this means. It means that the number of hours these people would have to put in to start to touch back would be a minimum of two hours a week, essentially. These are people who give a lot of time.

I believe that all members of the House appreciate the valuable roll that volunteers play in our society and we are grateful for the unwavering dedication of volunteers who sometimes risk their lives to help their fellow citizens in emergency situations.

Indeed, these volunteers respond to thousands of calls each year and in doing so expose themselves to danger, such as going into a home engulfed in flames and filled with toxic smoke in order to rescue a fellow citizen or responding to a rail accident where there may be an explosion at any time.

It is plainly evident: these volunteers underpin the security and safety of our country and citizenry. They accept risks and dangers while gallantly performing their duties for the sake of protecting others. Their role is particularly important in many rural communities that are not in a position to have full time emergency service personnel, in handling extreme circumstances such as hurricane Juan, the ice storm, the floods in Quebec. We can talk about all of these and we can talk about the recent snow storm in Nova Scotia, when all these fire halls, these voluntarily operated fire halls, became EMO centres where people could find refuge and warm food.

We see many examples of things like that. These people are involved in emergency measures organizations within their communities, which goes beyond what they do regularly. We see them dispensing first aid.

It was entirely appropriate for the member of the Bloc Québécois to indicate that the bill does not concern only volunteer firefighters but other people too.

But let us just talk about firefighters. They take their first aid training and are ready to dispense first aid. They attend fires. As for fires, we can all imagine the burning house, but in my community in rural Canada volunteer fire departments attend weekly to chimney fires, which tend not to happen on nice warm summer days. Chimney fires tend to happen when there is freezing rain, snow and wind.

Search and rescue is another matter. Volunteer firefighters are always involved in search and rescue. It is not only the search and rescue personnel who are involved, but also the volunteer firefighters. Often they are first responders at accidents, and even if they are not designated as first response, they attend accidents. They have to get out of their homes and out of their businesses to attend.

We talk about their homes, but a lot of these people are small businessmen. They are tradesmen. They are plumbers or carpenters or electricians. They are service station operators who must leave their places of business and do their volunteer work.

We see them at community events quite often, events that are not emergencies. We do not see the gallantry at that time; they are parking vehicles so that we can have our fall fairs, our summer festivals and all these other things, so that they can raise a few dollars for their departments or assist the community. Again that is time away from their businesses, their leisure, their families and their other interests, time that they are dedicating to their community.

What do they do except put out fires and fight fires? They do training. It is important that they be properly trained and that they train the new recruits within their departments. They give a lot of time to that.

They also do fundraising. They do not necessarily depend on the tax base for all of their equipment. I just opened two new fire halls in my riding, in Wedgeport and in Little Brook, and most of the money was raised by these fire departments and their auxiliaries. They do all that in addition to training.

More important, and I think it was mentioned very well by the member from Lethbridge, who is, I understand, is a volunteer firefighter himself, it is a family contribution. It is not only a family contribution when there is an emergency, but a family contribution when there is a training night, when there is a fundraiser or when there is community event. One or two or both members of the family, the parents, are not there for their children those evenings or to do other family events. They are contributing to the community, so it is a cost to the family. It is a contribution to us.

Each Canadian who has been on the receiving end of the vital assistance provided by an emergency volunteer knows the value of their service and every Canadian should appreciate that one day that they may be the ones in need of help. Knowing that these volunteers are there gives us all great comfort and for that we should all be thankful.

This government knows that the safety and security of Canadians is an important issue. I have figures on the amount of money that is put into emergency preparedness and to security. They have been given in the House in many instances, so I will not repeat them.

The priority that the government gives to security is clear. It is also clear that the government agrees with the member for Cape Breton—Canso on the important role of emergency services.

Under the Income Tax Act, emergency service volunteers can receive tax-free compensation of up to $1,000 from a public authority, which represents an increase of $500 since 1998.

The measure that is now in place is reasonable. I will have to run through my notes because there is not enough time to do it all and there is a lot to say about this. What is being put forward is reasonable. I fully support the principle.

There is a question I must ask, which we must face in debate and which the committee will grapple with. Is this the best way? Is it too bureaucratic, as was raised by the Bloc? We will have to look at that. On the marginal rate, does it have the same impact for all volunteers? The marginal rate of taxation can be different, so is there a way that would have the same input? Not all volunteers pay taxes, so they would get no contribution.

Other volunteers in our community who contribute as much might not get similar treatment and we do not want to draw away from other services toward one where there might be a special treatment. I do not know that it would be an issue, but I think it would be important to hear this debate and hear from the committee.

I support the idea. I think it is a great idea. I look forward to the debate. I can assure the House that I will vote in favour.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve into committee of the whole to consider the textile industry. I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole for consideration of a motion on the textile industry under Government Orders, Mr. Strahl in the chair.)

Textile IndustryGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada LiberalMinister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and Minister responsible for the Francophonie

Mr. Chair, I am pleased that the House is having this debate, and my first words will be for the people in Huntingdon who are experiencing today the anxiety of knowing that they will lose their jobs. My heart goes out to them not as a politician, but only as the father of a family, and I am wondering how it is possible to live through such hardships just before Christmas.

If I may, I will do tonight something I seldom do, that is being totally apolitical. I would like to deal briefly with the challenges ahead. What can we do to prevent the reoccurrence of similar events, and what can we do to help people affected by this?

Globalization is not just communications and knowledge but also includes trade. Globalization cannot be avoided, and it has consequences. To rise to the challenges of the 21st century, the Canadian textile and clothing industries are trying to adjust. Trade barriers are coming down, and international competition requires companies to broaden their horizons and explore new ways to do business, and to promote themselves and their products more effectively.

All industries are subject to this new dynamic. Of course, textiles and clothing are no exception. In this context, there are two key words: innovation and creativity.

We believe that the role of a responsible government, which in my opinion we are, is to support such innovation and creativity. I want to tell the House about various measures implemented over the past months. This matter is not new to us. We have been working on it for a long time already.

For example, on February 27, 2004, almost one year ago already, after having heard the recommendations of a joint industry-government task force, the former industry minister, now Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, announced new measures to help Canadian textile and clothing manufacturers become more competitive abroad.

These measures, set at approximately $53.4 million, include the allocation of $26.7 million to CANtex, a three-year Canadian initiative to assist companies to enhance their productivity and improve efficiency, as well as reduce tariffs on imported fabrics used by clothing manufacturers.

If I mention CANtex, it is because, in Quebec, Economic Development Canada, my department, is responsible for implementing this program. It targets textile manufacturers that want to refocus their activities, lower production costs and increase productivity.

I just said so, but I will repeat that we all recognize the importance of fostering innovation and competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world market. CANtex has been in operation since last October 13 and comes with a budget of $14.6 million over three years for Quebec alone.

One project was approved in Quebec; 11 applications were received under the CANtex program; five information sessions were held to provide businesses with details on CANtex; sessions were organized in partnership with regional organizations. I am referring to those sessions held in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Drummondville, Sherbrooke, Bromont, Montreal.

These measures designed to enhance the competitiveness of Canadian businesses build on the success of the Canadian Apparel and Textile Industries Program, or CATIP. This program is the result of the hard work of several parliamentarians. I would like, if I may, to name at least three, for obvious reasons that, everyone will agree, transcend political differences. They are, first, the hon. member for Ahuntsic, second, the hon. member for Beauce and, third, the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi. Other members, from both sides of the House, have shown concern for these issues.

The CATIP led to the completion of 159 projects in Quebec. The Government of Canada contributed nearly $9.5 million under that program, which generated $28 million in investment and led to the maintenance of 12,000 jobs and the creation of a further 436 jobs.

To give a few examples of successes, first of all there is Régitex. Five years ago, Régitex Inc.in Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce was a small operation with a handful of employees producing leading-edge yarns for industrial, apparel and home furnishing purposes. Today, it has a staff of 140. One of the keys to that change was financial assistance provided by the program I have referred to, which enabled it to introduce new business practices. This has enabled Régitex to better promote its products to furniture manufacturers in the United States.

A second example of success, the Children's Apparel Manufacturers' Association on-line credit bureau, which was established in this way, provides credit checks and enables members to assess the risk of a specific sale.

Empire Shirt Ltd. of Louiseville, Quebec, is a thoroughly modern company with a century-old tradition of excellence. It specializes in designing and manufacturing top-quality uniforms for police forces, schools and dozens of other organizations across Canada.With financial assistance from the Canadian Apparel and Textile Industries Program, the company hired a consultant to conduct a comprehensive analysis of its operations. Each workstation was scrutinized and every process reviewed.The analysis led Empire Shirt to implement a series of new procedures. As a result, operations are much more efficient, delivery times are shorter and production costs are down.

Confections Alizée plein air of Sainte-Aurélie, has combined a love of the outdoors and a talent for design to establish a thriving business. With the program's help, the company doubled the floor space of the existing facility to accommodate a staff of 27 and introduced a computerized pattern-grading system, which has led to significant improvements in productivity.

I could not do justice in the few minutes available to all those who have benefited from this program to move their companies forward, develop a competitive edge and finally beat, even dominate the competition.

I could tell you about the Canadian Apparel Federation, which hopes to address the marketing gap through an industry portal and e-business infrastructure.

Or of the industry association CTT Group/SAGEOS of Saint-Hyacinthe, dedicated to improving the productivity of Canada's geotextile industry. With financial assistance from the Canadian Apparel and Textile Industries Program, the association has initiated the Geotextile Awareness Project, which aims to improve market share and production levels of geotextiles in Canada, and to increase knowledge and understanding of the product's many uses.

I could tell you about Groupe VR2, in Asbestos. This business, which used to focus only on clothes manufacturing, now acts as a contract manufacturer for a range of international clients and, on occasion, it imports and exports finished products. Once again, CATIP, the Canada Economic Development program, was present, was helpful, useful and effective, and served a purpose.

Of course, we all know what the situation is in Huntingdon. Let me just say two or three very brief things on this subject.

In fact, we must give credit where credit is due. For over a year now, following representations by Quebec MP Serge Marcil, the regional office in Montérégie has been working closely with parties concerned, including people responsible for the Haut-Saint-Laurent RCM, which Huntingdon is part of, to develop and implement a regional strategy of intervention for Suroît, to diversify the regional economy and enhance key natural sectors. This issue is a priority.

Yesterday, my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi organized a meeting with industry representatives and concerned parties and departments. Despite all these efforts and many others, Huntingdon Mills and Cleyn & Tinker are closing.

Whole families are experiencing pain, uncertainty, an unknown future and fear. My department is willing to examine any project that is submitted to it to diversify the local economy.

I do not know if, in five or six seconds, I can say how, for me, before being an economic question, what the people of Huntingdon are going through is a human problem. I do not know if this is enough, of course it is not, but I would like to tell them how I feel for them and how I want to find solutions with them and for them.

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6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Chair, we all sympathize with the people from Huntingdon, but let us be clear: the federal government has known for 10 years now that the tariffs and quotas would disappear on January 1, 2005. Today, they hastily made a few announcements, but nothing that will help this industry get through this crisis. Last week representatives from the apparel and textile industry came to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and talked about how discouraged they were at the federal government's inaction.

It is quite frustrating for them to hear today's announcement making Huntingdon a priority. I want the minister to explain how he can announce two pilot projects for Laval and Ahuntsic, which may be justified, but announce absolutely nothing for Huntingdon the same day we learn that 800 jobs are being lost.

We do not understand this attitude of the federal government. In April 2004 there was a unanimous report from the Standing Committee on Finance that proposed three measures. Why then did we have to wait until today for the federal government to confirm part of these measures? The Huntingdon case is not an isolated situation. This is a tidal wave. There is an extraordinary offensive, namely the Chinese, at the ready to take over all these markets.

Again today, the federal government has delivered half measures. There are no conclusive results. If the programs they are talking about, namely CATIP and CANtex, had resolved the problem, we would not be here talking about it today.

A year ago someone was working with the people of Huntingdon and today the plant is closing. What does the minister think about that? Obviously it did not work.

And it gets worse. Does the minister not agree that the first thing that should have been put on the table today was an aid package for older workers so that those who have been laid off can have decent employment insurance benefits and a decent future? These are people who dedicated their lives to working in companies where salaries were not particularly impressive and neither was the pension fund.

Does the attitude of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development not suggest that it is business as usual, that nothing special has happened and that nothing will be done any differently? Why has there been no announcement by the government to help older workers?

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6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. If I may, I would like to put this into perspective, because the question contained a few things that are inaccurate and incorrect.

The CATIP program has been in existence since 2002, and it is almost 2005. I gave concrete examples of CATIP success stories. If you like, I will go through them once more. I had to be brief because I did not have enough time. But there were at least seven to ten success stories thanks to the CATIP program.

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6:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

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6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

In the case of Huntingdon, I would like to finish my answer, if I may. In April 2004, we had meetings there with CED, Industry Canada and the minister of economic and regional development in Quebec. Together, we explored the possibility of using either CANtex, or another program in my department, IDEA-SME, to foster economic diversification.

We then put everything together and asked two local companies to tell us whether they were interested. Huntingdon Mills was interested, but it did not apply to the office in charge of this program for assistance. We never had any feedback from the other company.

I do not want people to start pointing fingers and saying who did what, and who should have done this or that. What I see now is people in trouble. I accept my colleague's question, but I wanted to set the record straight so that everybody is talking about real facts and not allegations.

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6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, some people say that programs like CANtex can help some businesses, but they have not done anything for the businesses in my riding and in Huntingdon.

The member says that meetings have been held with businesses in Huntingdon, but how is it that nothing happened? It is a failure. Nothing concrete was done. Things were said to the employer, but the unions were not allowed at the meeting, at the negotiation table. Other things were thus said to the union and the employees. It was only smoke and mirrors for the Huntingdon businesses.

According to the government, the CANtex program could help solve the problem. Unfortunately, these programs are no substitute for an appropriate policy implemented in the present context. When our industry, the textile industry, has no more opportunities, what good will these programs do?

These programs are nothing but empty shells. I would like the member opposite to give us an answer to these questions and to explain to us how it is that nothing has been done for the benefit of the Huntingdon industries.

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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Chair, the question raised by my colleagues touches on a very sensitive issue and I will do my best to explain it as clearly as possible. My department and the government can intervene as much as they want, provided that businesses make some effort to show an interest in proposing something. So, we are willing to support businesses.

My colleague points out to me the fact that unions were not involved. I am sure he is not telling me that the Government of Canada has a responsibility to go in and manage labour-management relations in those private companies. This does not make sense.

There was a program that was open to everybody. Not only that, but since I still have a few minutes left, if I may, I will go back to a few concrete examples. Regitex in Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce was a successful business. The Association des manufacturiers de mode enfantine in Montréal was a success. Chemise Empire Ltée in Louiseville was a success. Confections Alizée plein air inc. in Sainte-Aurélie was a success. The Canadian Apparel Federation, and their work, were a success. The Groupe CTT/SAGEOS in Saint-Hyacinthe was a success. The Groupe VR2 Inc. in Asbestos was a success.

All those businesses have this in common: they have decided to work to take advantage of the services offered by the programs we have set up. I am certainly not going to ask the heads of the businesses in Huntingdon “How come your unions are not present?” I do not want to suggest that they were not present because I was not present at the meeting, and I do not know who was. However, I know that we have taken the initiative and we have invited them. We have asked for plans to be submitted. We have said that the money was there. We have said that we were extremely flexible on the mode of application to help them.

What more can we do to help a business? There are eight, nine, ten, fifteen that have achieved something, and two whose failure has been revealed today. I am sorry, but if we have made it with 10 or 12 businesses, it may be because the program was not so bad. So we really have to see what the problem was.

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6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that we are having this debate tonight, at the request of the Bloc—an emergency debate on a tragic situation. The people of Huntingdon are living in a tragedy. More than 800 people will soon be out of work. That is the result of the federal government's inaction.

I repeat the quote that was read earlier to the hon. minister who preceded me.

This government appears to believe that the latest measures they have announced, CATIP and CANtex, are the solutions to the problems. Unfortunately, these programs are no substitute for appropriate and realistic policy for today's context. When our industry has no markets left, what good will these programs be?

Do you know who said that? The president of Denim Swift, which has had to terminate hundreds of jobs in Drummondville. The minister can slip away. I would naturally expect him to slip away while we are giving him a close-up view of this business's reality. In this file, the current government's action has come terribly late.

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6:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

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6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

I would like the minister to let me speak.

The people of Huntingdon were expecting one thing today, that they would get some help with employment insurance and that they could count on the existence of a program to help older workers. To add insult to injury, today, two undoubtedly very relevant pilot projects were announced in Laval and Ahuntsic. However, the 800 layoffs announced yesterday are in Huntingdon. The town's mayor came here to the House of Commons to hold a press conference asking the federal government to intervene. Not a word is being said about Huntingdon. That is the proof that the federal government was not ready to participate and not ready to do its share toward revitalizing the textile and clothing industry. And yet it has known for 10 years that the quotas would disappear. Moreover, it has known since April about the three proposals the Standing Committee on Finance made in its unanimous report aimed at correcting the situation. Despite all this, it did not offer any of them.

Attempts were made to make partial announcements after the House of Commons recessed. Yesterday's sad news concerning Huntingdon was given new impetus here today, with the Bloc Québécois putting the issue on the table. We had been demonstrating for a while already that the federal government's action on this issue was inefficient. Unfortunately, we have had tragic proof of that. This kind of tragedy is bound to keep happening if the federal government does not improve on the measures it is currently putting forward.

What was announced today was a few increases for programs such as CANtex, which the minister referred to. But that particular program did not achieve the expected results, as evidenced by the jobs that continue to be lost. Much broader measures are required.

There are things missing in today's announcements. The Bloc Québécois and the industry would have liked a quota on Chinese imports to be maintained. That is allowed under the WTO access protocol for China. This measure could have provided adequate protection for the industry, while it starts implementing adjustment measures. This could be done, but was not acted on.

Moreover, no measure for a stricter enforcement of rules was announced. This will ensure that only the least developed countries will benefit from the elimination of tariffs.

Not a word either about the issue of the bilateral agreements between the United States and Caribbean countries. The Americans have understood that it is necessary to allow clothing manufacturing activities to be finalized in southern countries. In return, for the manufactured clothes to re-enter the U.S. market, these countries will have to have used American textiles. In this respect, the federal government should have taken the initiative, but failed to do so. That is why we are going to have to stay on their case even if the House adjourns this evening, as scheduled. Fear not, we will still be there to assist in ensuring that a real program or action plan is implemented to correct the situation.

In the same vein, the federal government failed to implement foreign manufacturing programs. Yet these would have been very beneficial to the textile industry. Pilot projects were suggested by industry stakeholders. For example, when textile is manufactured in Canada, we should have the possibility of having clothes made out of it abroad and, upon its return, it should be appropriately tax free. That is not exactly what the federal government is proposing.

It is sad that we do not have an comprehensive action plan. There is however a new program called Technological Partnerships Canada as well as projects to buy new equipment. We will be able to invest up to $3 million, fully refundable. That is something the Bloc asked for in committee as early as September so that we could get more than the mere $50,000 or $60,000 subsidies from CANtex. We need to develop new sectors such as geotextile or the use of textile in areas like health care and the aircraft industry.

A great number of new sectors can be developed. In order to do so, we will need help in research and development to buy new machinery and things like that. The government has made an interesting announcement on this issue.

The tragedy is that the government tried to set aside all the initiatives that could have helped the industry to better position itself and to deal with the elimination of the quotas. It is as if the federal government had decided to forget about the apparel and textile industry and to target other markets in this global economy in order to capture parts of the marketplace, and that it was too bad for the communities that would end up in trouble and could disappear but they would have to deal with all that change without any additional assistance.

In fact, no assistance for older workers has been announced. There is nothing to permit the diversification of the regional economy of affected regions. The softwood lumber package could have been used as a model and additional measures proposed, but this was not done. That is why today, the federal government must clearly understand that it has not done its homework properly. People are not applauding the result of proposals made. If the programs had been effective for x number of years, the situation we are seeing today would not have occurred or there would have been only isolated examples. These are not isolated examples.

In my riding, there are a number of businesses in all sectors. I could name a few, for example, Consultex, Bermatex, Confections Lamartine, GMP, Industrie Troie, which unfortunately has closed. We are talking about 300 jobs in the ready-to-wear industry. All these industries and workers are very concerned by the message the federal government is sending them on the night before quotas are to disappear. It is going to put a few things on the table because, today, there was greater pressure given the dramatic situation in Huntingdon and because the Bloc Québécois asked to hold this debate in the House, but no comprehensive action plan has appeared yet.

Why is the federal government never able to propose complete economic policies and adequate strategies? The same delays are happening with regard to the aerospace industry. Now, it is the textile and clothing industry. Again last week, in committee, the main representatives of the two sectors appeared to tell us they were waiting for a clear policy from the federal government. There is none.

The minister himself came to tell us that there had been a meeting yesterday between someone from the Prime Minister's Office and representatives of the textile industry to discuss the situation and to see if measures could be proposed. I am convinced that, had the closure in Huntingdon not been announced yesterday, nothing would have been announced today and absolutely nothing would have been put on the table. They would have used the parliamentary break to try to sweep it under the rug, between now and Christmas or January.

I want to tell the government that we will not give up, we will keep a close watch as long as it does not do justice to these workers. We will not give up because justice must be done for these workers.

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6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Chair, the government has known for 10 years that import quotas for textile and clothing will end on December 31. The government has known for 10 years that thousands of jobs are threatened. Ottawa has been aware of the solutions for 10 years and yet, today, in Huntingdon, 800 workers are losing their job.

In the riding of Drummond, the great textile and clothing sector has been losing ground since 1998. There were closures at Celanese, at Cavalier Textiles and, recently, 600 jobs were lost at Denim Swift. The Celanese plant had been closing progressively, laying off a total of 5,000 workers in March 2000. Seven months later, Cavalier Textiles ended its production. In December 2003, Denim Swift management announced that it was ceasing its denim production activities in April 2004, putting 600 people out of work. We have been talking about this for a year, and the government has known for 10 years what will happen by December 31 and it has done nothing.

On December 21, there will be 215 jobs left at the Denim Swift plant, and management is expected to announce its intention to close, which will cause the loss of the last jobs, unless the government does something, of course.

The Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canadamakes me laugh when he talks about the measures that were taken by the former industry minister. When there was a strategy for Denim Swift, all local stakeholders and myself had a meeting with the minister, here in Ottawa. We were really disappointed with the outcome of that meeting, because nothing allowed us to save jobs at the Denim Swift plant. So, do not tell me that many things were done. There were programs, but they were totally inappropriate for this type of multinational businesses.

I would like to ask my colleague what he thinks about the government's inaction on these issues and about the solutions that the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada has put in place to save perhaps a few businesses, a few employees, but not the thread businesses.

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7 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for her example. A while ago, the minister was saying that they did not want to talk to the unions. Talk to them? That is nonsense. However, it was not the unions that did the talking, but rather the president of Denim Swift. In May, 2004—that is, close to 10 months ago—he wrote to the Minister of Finance, telling him something had to happen. Absolutely nothing happened.

The current Minister of Finance has a totally free market approach. He is utterly insensitive to the situation faced by several communities across Quebec and Canada. The people there face hardships and, over the coming months and years, their living conditions will become even harsher. Indeed, with the massive arrival of Chinese products, this will be a very difficult period in the textile and apparel sector.

We would truly have needed a global and comprehensive strategy and, above all, we should have made full use of temporary measures for a few years, of the kind we were entitled to in order to allow the industry to bounce back. This is not what was done. Little programs like CATIP or CANtex, were introduced, and they made some investments possible. But the results clearly indicate that it does not work.

But most of all, the government has turned its back on highly skilled workers, who will have a hard time retraining in some other fields, and has nothing to announce to them today.

The transport minister, who is the minister for Quebec, said they might consider something for older workers. Well, they should think about it soon, because for the last 10 years we have been asking for the Program for Older Worker Adjustment to be restored. We are going through some tough times. Globalization is a new reality we have to deal with. Although some sectors are doing very well, others have been hurt by all the changes.

Together, we have met the globalization challenge. So, why not give a chance to those on the front line? They are losing jobs in industries where they have worked all their lives to support their families. Today, the federal government is telling them that it has nothing to offer them, nothing to put on the table, that they might starve to death, but that is not its problem. The message the federal government is sending is totally unacceptable today.

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7 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Chair, I would like to put some comments on the record this evening because I have found it very disheartening on how the minority government is working.

As some of the members on this side of the House have said previously, the present government knew for 10 years that this industry was in jeopardy and in trouble. It knew that on December 31, 2004, tariffs would disappear.

During that decade we had immigrants come to Canada. Many of them went into these textile factories. They have entry level jobs. They build their families. They learn to communicate. A lot of these immigrants learn how to speak English. They socialize and learn what it is like to be in this great country.

However, in this great country we had an incompetent government that knew for 10 years that this industry was going to be in trouble. The government knew for 10 years that something had to be done.

Today, on December 14, we suddenly get a news release, an announcement. Suddenly in question period we have a heads up that maybe later on in the afternoon we would hear something that would be of some use to the textile industry. It was a very disappointing announcement, too little too late.

On the up side of this debate, the pressure from the opposition has caused the government to take some action. Members from our side of the House recommended that the current duty remission orders be extended to benefit textile and apparel manufacturers, to be extended so that we could arrive at solutions. We also said that we had to do more than that. We had to problem solve. We had to come up with solutions for the textile industry. No long term solutions have been proposed by the government.

The sad part is that the government is so terribly disconnected from ordinary people. A lot of these workers do not have the money to fly down to a nice, warm climate to spend the Christmas break. They have other things to worry about. They have to worry about buying the groceries, buying the Christmas presents, and having a life where they can pay the mortgage.

The government has deliberately turned its back on the common people in this nation. It has happened in a most dismal manner. This is irresponsible governance. When a government knows that an industry in Canada is in trouble for a whole decade, it should have the resources and the wherewithal to do something about it.

This is December 14 and Christmas is coming on the 25th. How does the government think the families feel? I am sure that a lot of the families are not even aware that there has been this great announcement. Many businesses prepare at least six to eight months ahead of time for employment opportunities and for buying the raw materials that they need to make the garments.

What makes the government think that this is any kind of a solution at the ninth hour? There has been no pre-planning. There has been no business plan. There has been no action to cause the textile industry to grow. We have the raw materials. We have the people to work. Unfortunately, we have an industry in trouble. It is because of the poor planning of the current government.

Members from this side of the House have pressured the government on a regular basis to do something about this, not in December. As soon as this session started we rose and said that the time is up on December 31, 2004. We said that we will have real troubles. Members opposite turned their backs. They made no reply. Suddenly, December 31 is coming very close and the House is about to recess.

The government had to do something. Some 800 jobs were lost in Huntingdon. All of this is too little, too late. There is no problem solving. There is no vision. There is no business plan. The cost to human lives has been phenomenal.

For many families who are recipients of this news release, it is too little, too late. Businesses are closing down and plans have not been made. As we celebrate Christmas this year, government members opposite must understand that the ordinary people have lives too. They have children too. They have hopes and dreams too. We are the ordinary people and we are supposed to be representing the country in which we live.

Ten long years have gone by before anything was done and it was done at the ninth hour. When we look at the announcement and recommendations, we know that the finance committee unanimously voted that the government immediately extend, for a further seven years, the duty remission orders covering the apparel sector that are set to expire on December 31. That was unanimous. Why did it take so long to take action? It is plainly because of the dithering.

The current Prime Minister has a reputation for dithering and that trickles down to all the ministerial portfolios. In this instance no decision was made until it was too little, too late. The announcement said there would an elimination of tariffs on fibre and yarn imports worth up to $50 million per year and on imports of textiles used by the apparel industry worth up to $75 million effective January 1. That is no surprise. This has been talked about for months in the House.

Why could this announcement not have been made months ago? If it had been made months ago, families would have sighed with relief, bought a little bit of time, and would have been able to do something more with their textile jobs.

The announcement today said that the current duty remission orders would be extended benefiting the textile and apparel manufacturers for five years. Is this a surprise? This is no surprise. Members on this side of the House have been advocating this for months. How long does it take to whip up a press release? I am certain that members on this side of the House would have been very happy to give the government a little help to get this press release out. Unfortunately, on December 14, 2004, a lot of families will feel the impact of this dithering late announcement.