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House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industries.

Topics

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10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I remind the member to address his comments through the Chair. We will hear from the parliamentary secretary.

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary East is a lot more knowledgeable about international trade agreements than we would know by the tenor of his question. He would know that we do not rush into negotiations. He would know that these negotiations take years to achieve

. He would know that the deal that was signed 10 years ago at the World Trade Organization, which eliminates barriers this year and eliminates quotas, was negotiated over many years and was probably begun by a government previous to this one. He would know that a lot of those negotiations were done by governments, including the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement. A lot of these had come into context. Rushing into agreements I do not think is the context; it is something that is worked at over a long period of time by the international community.

He raises a couple of interesting points. He asks why the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health would be apprised of this question. I was a member of the finance committee when we made the recommendations to the Minister of Finance. I stood in the House saying that I agreed we should do this and maybe more, maybe we should go further, and I think the Minister of Finance has gone further. We asked for two items and he gave us measures worth over $600 million.

In my riding, we had three textile industries that have had difficulty. We had Dominion Textile that closed down after over 100 years in operation. It moved to Magog and then had trouble there. We lost Britex, a small specialty manufacturer that had big trouble a few years ago. Incidentally, Dominion Textile's and Britex's first bankruptcies or foreclosures were under a previous government. I think the member should know that. He should not talk about just rushing. There was a refinancing of Britex, but unfortunately it had trouble again.

I believe the measures we are taking forward are one of the things that will help companies like that succeed in the future.

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10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and I would like to ask him a few questions.

As we well know, Canada is competing with China in the textile industry. Now, the sales of Quebec's industries are going down because they are not competitive and, consequently, they get fewer orders.

I would like the parliamentary secretary to explain how those industries can get the support of the CATIP program, for instance, since all its funds have already been distributed?

Besides, as we well know, 85% of the support available under the CANtex program is allocated to the clothing industry and 15% to textile manufacturers. This program helps businesses obtain the funding they need to buy new capital equipment.

How can one use this program when one's sales and orders are down by half? How can it be done?

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely important question. If we wish to witness, on the long term, not only the survival but the expansion of a prosperous industry able to adapt to modern reality, protectionism has never proven to be an efficient way to reach this goal. Modernization, new technologies, capitalization, investment, market and product development are the important issues that the industry has to deal with.

In terms of investment, there are over 300 projects throughout the country where the industry works in partnership with the Government of Canada to help businesses develop and increase their competitiveness.

All sectors of Canadian industry facing modernization are going through tough times. Where there used to be thousands of mills and lumber mills, there remains only a few large companies, which are sometimes experiencing difficulty. All sectors have to deal with those issues relating to competition. I believe that the answer lies in international competition, long-term planning and modernization.

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11 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to point out the presence today of textile and apparel workers from the Montreal area. They are here to ensure that, together, we will find better solutions to safeguard as many jobs as possible in the textile and clothing sector.

My question for the member opposite has three parts.

First, I would like to know if my hon. colleague can confirm that, when it opened the border to textile and clothing exporters, the government of the day was sufficiently prepared for the negative effect on our own industry.

Second, admittedly, there has been considerable effort made in this field. However, can he confirm that the corrective measures now in place are sufficient to deal with the disaster this has caused among manufacturers, particularly those in Quebec?

Third, in this field as in others, are the amounts set aside for research and development sufficient and suited to the change in direction that the textile and clothing sectors must make?

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, those are three excellent questions, which require more expertise than I have, but I shall attempt to reply nonetheless.

First, on the question of the past, I shall leave it to the historians. They can study the past, while we will look after the present and the future.

As to knowing whether the measures are adequate, that is a good question. I remind the member that the measures go further than those the Standing Committee on Finance asked of the minister last year. The minister acted responsibly and undertook consultations to find out whether what was being asked of us was right, whether it was enough and whether more was needed. That is what we did.

That brings me to the third question concerning research and development. He wants to know if these measures are adequate. I will remind him, and all members of this House, that these measures are in addition to all the other initiatives that may be undertaken in partnership with provincial R and D programs, for example, with regional agencies or with the Minister of Industry or the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. The programs that make it possible to work in partnership with the provinces and communities still exist.

This is an additional measure specifically targeted at an industry with problems, to help it meet its challenges and the requirements of the future. This measure cannot be considered the sum total of the response.

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11 a.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to address the motion before us. I will be splitting my time with the loquacious member for Edmonton—St. Albert. The motion reads:

That the House acknowledge the inadequacy of the assistance plan for the clothing and textile industries which was announced by the federal government following the closure of six plants in Huntingdon, and that it ask the government to further elaborate with regard to the following elements: the use of safeguards provided for in trade agreements, the implementation of measures to encourage the use of Quebec--and Canadian--made textiles and the creation of a program to assist older workers.

The Conservative Party has long been a supporter of free and fair trade and long advocated that if we as a nation of a small population with a large land mass with unparalleled natural resources have fair trading rules and a level playing field, Canadians will do well, have done well in the past and will succeed into the future.

The problem is how governments in the past, particularly this government, have represented Canadian industries and citizens in international trade agreements, and it has not been up to par. In general, the Conservative Party will support the motion, although not perfect, for certain reasons.

The first reason is we believe that more care and diligence must be put into trade agreements and negotiations. In our view some of the biggest economic problems facing Canadians today are due to a lack of attention by the government to huge trade issues, like in textiles, the beef industry, softwood lumber and elsewhere.

The second reason we will support it is the Liberal government has implemented a program, which I think the motion is referring to as well, through the least developed country initiative which is unfair and has caused serious harm to the industry. Under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the government made a decision to provide duty free and quota free entry for textiles and clothing from 48 least developed countries. That decision has had a profoundly negative impact on the textile industry, and I will explain why later in my speech.

The third specific reason to support the motion is we support any examination of programs delivered by the human resources department to assist workers, not only older workers but workers who have been displaced in areas such as textiles or any other affected trade areas. This was something that was part of the original free trade agreement which the government at that time recognized. The Conservative government recognized the impact of the trade agreement on certain industries and tried to address that.

I want to point out some of the facts of the textile industry for the information of people. It is a vibrant modern manufacturing industry. It has a long and proud history in Canada, particularly in the province of Quebec. It is easy to understand why the industry is very important, particularly to Quebec and the Bloc Québécois. Roughly 47,000 Canadians are employed in textiles across Canada and a further 97,000 Canadians are employed in the apparel industry.

Textile and apparel jobs are an important source of employment for new Canadians. Approximately 40% of apparel workers are first generation Canadians. The textile industry comprises two subsectors: textile mills which includes fibre, yarn and thread mills, fabric mills, textile and fabric finishing and the fabric coating; and textile product mills which produce textile home furnishings such as carpets and rugs, curtains and lining as well as other textile mill products, excluding clothing which include tire cord fabrics, rope, textile bags and canvas. In addition, a significant number of textile workers produce textiles for motor vehicle seating. Obviously, it is another important industry in Canada.

Despite the fact that the R and D expenditures seem quite moderate, the textiles industry is touted as one of the most innovative in Canada, based on an innovation index designed by Statistics Canada. Critical to the successful adoption of these advanced technologies is a continuous upgrading of the industry's workforce knowledge and skills.

On trade, global integration is constantly reshaping and transforming our own economy. One of the most important issues facing Canadian industries is a safe and free movement of goods across borders in a timely manner.

Trade remains key to the future prosperity of all industries in Canada. Trade barriers limit Canadian firms in their capacities to grow and participate in foreign markets. Trade barriers cause investors to bypass Canadian businesses and hinder the mobility of goods and services in Canada. The Liberal government has not worked as effectively as it could with international organizations and individual nations to reduce the protection of policies of other countries to secure free trade agreements and to reduce the level of subsidies that have happened in other industries in other countries. The goal of governments in negotiations should be to secure agreements that benefit Canadian manufacturers by allowing them to compete and succeed through competition.

I want to address the LDC initiative and explain my perspective on it. This initiative, in combination with the appreciating Canadian dollar, has caused many in the Canadian textile industry to start importing rather than producing domestically. As of January 1, all the quotas Canada had on imported clothes from foreign countries were removed with some minor exceptions that came at the last minute.

The government greatly underestimated the impact on textile products of its decision to produce duty free and quota free entry for imports of textiles and clothing from 48 least developed countries. The LDCs are the world's poorest countries as designated by the United Nations on the basis of specific economic and social criteria.

We support this initiative and the industry supports the concept of the initiative. The problem is the textile and apparel manufacturing powerhouses, like China, India and Pakistan, will also through this initiative be given greater access to the Canadian market. That goes against the goal of the program, in and of itself. It is supposed to help the LDCs. It is not supposed to help emerging and developing economic powerhouses like China and India, which will obviously be some of our main competitors in this century.

The impact of the federal government's decision to provide duty free and quota free entry for imports of textiles and clothing from these 48 least developed countries has been devastating to Canada's textile industry.

The program has recently been changed. The industry has brought this to our attention on this side and I know it has made it very well known as an issue to the other side of the House. It has been very frustrated by the fact that the issue simply has not been addressed to its satisfaction.

The government has focused at the very last minute on the duty remission orders, and on doing a package. As the Bloc has already pointed out, after the mills had closed down at Huntingdon, it did the package, I believe, a day after, which was obviously a late response. This initiative is doing much more harm, and it is something to which the government should respond.

The specific reason for this is that under the rules of origin of this program, up to 75% of the ex-factory price of garments made in an LDC country can be of non-LDC materials from general preferential tariff countries, such as China, Korea, India, et cetera, countries with huge and sophisticated textile and clothing industries that hardly need Canada's help to export textiles and clothing.

The result is that these rules of origin deprive the least developed nations of any incentive for foreign investors to establish textile manufacturing facilities in their countries, investment that would lead to long term employment and advancement opportunities for the people who need it most. The purpose of the program was to encourage investment in these least developed nations as a way of lifting them out of their current economic condition. It is not doing that. In fact, it is allowing nations, which are turning into economic powerhouses, to access this program for their benefit.

The rules under the LDC also relegate the LDCs to clothing assembly, and only as long as they remain the cheapest source of labour in the world by paying the lowest wages in the world. As a result of the program, textile manufacturers across this country are being forced to close their facilities on an almost daily basis.

In terms of solutions, it should be possible to amend the LDCs' rules of origins to require that products made in the LDC countries are eligible for benefits under the program only if they are made from these least developed countries or from Canadian inputs. In addition, it would be appropriate and effective if an LDC-specific safeguard mechanism were to be instituted to deal with import surges.

The long term solution in the industry rests with tariff reductions. Our challenge to the government is in line with the motion. Why does it take the government so long to act on issues such as textiles? Why does it take so long to negotiate a fair tariff reduction agreement?

The previous speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, mentioned something about China's agreement with other WTO nations. It is our understanding that President Bush, when he was in China last, got an agreement from the Chinese to limit their manufacturing and exports into to the United States, particularly as it affected the textile and apparel industry. Our understanding is our Prime Minister did not even ask for this, to which the government should respond.

In conclusion, we in the Conservative Party will be supporting the motion by the Bloc Québécois. We feel the final solution to the industry's challenge obviously involves the Canadian government allowing our manufacturing sectors more access to foreign markets but also ensuring that there is as much a level playing field as possible. If that happens the fact is our industries and companies will succeed very well.

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11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking today about an extremely important motion for ridings like mine, for the whole region and the whole of Quebec. Indeed, the textile industry is more present in Quebec than in the rest of Canada.

I have been listening to the debates since the beginning. More specifically, I have heard the previous Liberal speaker say that, to put measures into place, ten years of negotiations were, at times, necessary. My reaction is that, in the textile industry, we have been seeing the problem coming for more than ten years. I have been in the riding for quite a while, and I can tell the House that we have been seeing the closing of factories in the textile field coming for a number of years. It has even been called the « soft sector ».

Therefore, I am asking my colleague who has just spoken why, according to him, that industry has been neglected to a point where, today, we are about to lose it almost completely, even though it provides jobs for almost one hundred thousand workers.

Why that lack of foresight? Why do we have to wait until disaster hits before we do anything? Is the federal government dragging its feet? I think so. We are in a position to see the problems coming. We have people ready to respond. We set up parliamentary committees. We invite people so that they tell us what is going on, and yet we shelve the studies until disaster strikes.

Does the Conservative member recognize, just like me, that the government is completely out of touch and fails to seize the opportunities to improve things before a catastrophe occurs?

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11:15 a.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is absolutely right. Not only with this industry but with other industries, the fact is the government waits until there is a crisis and then it tries to implement a stopgap ad hoc measure.

Members of the Bloc have been asking these questions for years and years. In the last session they were asking these questions. Before Christmas we were all asking questions on this issue. The finance minister stood up day after day and said that the Liberal members were raising the issue with him constantly. He gave that answer about 20 times instead of actually doing something.

I believe that up to six mills closed in Huntingdon. The day after, the government called a press conference and announced an interim package. It announced a big figure and then it said it would be over five years. There is no long term vision or response to serious questions.

The softwood lumber industry was in the exact same position. For years members in this caucus, in particular from British Columbia, were raising the issue of softwood lumber and that the agreement was going to expire. The government had no concern about it. The agreement expired and now we are in protracted negotiations and legal fights with the United States over the issue. Thousands of workers have been displaced as a result of complete inaction on the government's part.

The hon. member is absolutely correct. The Bloc is right to hold the government's feet to the fire on this issue. What is truly sad though is that workers, whether they are in textiles or softwood lumber, have been completely displaced by the government's inaction and indifference. That is completely unacceptable.

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11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Edmonton—Leduc for his comments and support for the Bloc Québécois' requests. It is true that the Bloc Québécois has been saying for a long time that we need a plan for the textile industry.

I do not know much about international trade agreements, but I know human suffering. As of now, 800 people in Huntingdon have lost their jobs and are unable to find a new one. There is no plan to help these workers retrain and acquire new skills.

For people who have been in the same industry 25, 30 or 40 years, it is not easy to find another job. They are going through a very difficult period after raising their family on a decent, but nonetheless modest salary earned by working for an industry they believed to be rock solid. They bought a house, they have obligations and now they suddenly lose their job. We have no program to help them continue living a decent life.

I would like to ask my colleague for Edmonton—Leduc if he and his colleagues from the Conservative Party intend to support all actions requested by the Bloc Québécois to save the textile industry.

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are supporting today's motion.

In terms of the specifics of the motion, the Conservative Party supports programs that look at human resources development. The motion itself is not overly specific on what type of program so I cannot respond for my party on that point. When the Conservative government signed the free trade agreement, measures were in place at that time for workers in displaced industries.

That is certainly a reasonable request.

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to follow my learned friend and colleague from Edmonton--Leduc on this issue which has been brought to our attention today by the Bloc Québécois in its motion.

My friend is absolutely correct. There is no leadership from the government. It always waits until there is a crisis and then wrings it hands and asks what to do. It seems to think that providing a bit of money will solve things. There is no plan. There is no vision from the government with respect to where it wants to go. There is no vision with respect to how it is going to develop jobs in Canada. There is no vision as to how it is going to make Canada the great country it was back in the 1950s and the 1960s when there was a real industrial policy to create jobs.

We are now in a global environment. One thing this country has is some education but not enough in order for us to compete, survive and prosper in this complex and difficult world we live in.

High technology, research and development and so on are the ways of the future and Canada could be the leader, but the government has no vision in this area. When we turn around to see how traditional industries are doing in this country, the government is hoping that things will work out well. Things have not been working too well in the textile and apparel industry in Quebec. Looking at it closely, we see that in many ways the government is the architect of these problems.

Let us take a look at the free trade agreement that the government has signed. I am the first to say that we should be supporting the less developed countries. Unfortunately, when I look at less developed countries I find that corruption is everywhere and is endemic. In these countries the problem is not jobs or education. The problem is that the leadership in those countries are helping themselves to all the cash. Less developed countries are poor and impoverished because they have been made that way by their leadership.

We have an obligation to help those countries, but not to the point where we hurt ourselves. Let us look at the trade agreements that we have signed with less developed countries.

We allow the countries to import materials so they can put people, children too, to work in sweat factories, so that the countries can ship that material and clothing back to our country and compete with workers in Canada.

When trying to build the economies of lesser developed countries we must start with agriculture, which is where every economy starts. Many of these countries are in areas where they can grow more than one crop in a year, but the leadership says, “We are not interested in agriculture. We just want your aid money to flow in our direction so we can put it in our pockets. We will build a few mills along the way and we will put our children to work. In that way not only will we take your money, but we will steal your jobs at the same time”. That is not the way to build fair and free trade.

These countries are allowed to take 75% of the content of the stuff that they make, which is imported from somewhere else rather than being made at home, and then flood the market with these textiles because, as my friend pointed out, labour is cheap in those parts of the world.

The government sits on its hands and does absolutely nothing. When a crisis comes at the very last minute it says that it has a package for displaced workers. The government surely should have been thinking long before that time because education is what makes employment and labour portable from industry to industry. Looking around the country we have seen many issues come up in the last few years that have destroyed industries. Where is the government with its policies? It has none.

A few years ago the fish stocks on the east coast collapsed. In essence a welfare situation was set up to allow those people to continue on because the government had no vision of building employment in that part of Canada. Canadians on the east coast are as hardworking, as energetic and as willing to contribute to our economy as Canadians in any other part of the country, but the government has no policy to promote jobs in that part of the country.

My friend made reference to the softwood lumber industry on the west coast. All people can do is watch the jobs disappear, even though the government thought there was an agreement. The Liberals negotiated NAFTA with the Americans. Now we find that it only works for the Americans; it does not work for the Canadian lumber industry.

The agricultural industry in Alberta has been devastated because of BSE. We thought we had guaranteed access to the American market by virtue of NAFTA. Now we find that we do not. Farmers have suffered. The loggers in B.C. have suffered. The fishermen in Atlantic Canada have suffered. Now people in the textile industry in Quebec are suffering. Where is the vision of an industrial technological strategy by the government for us to compete in complex global trade?

Just a couple of weeks ago the government finally was forced into an agreement on equalization with Newfoundland and Labrador. The Prime Minister had made a commitment that he was going to ensure that the resource revenues would flow to Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. He made that commitment during the election, but the election was over and he basically said, “What agreement? I do not have to honour that”. Thank goodness for the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador who held the Prime Minister's feet to the fire and forced him to live up to his commitment.

Now some money is flowing to that part of the country where jobs and wealth creation can start. The government was far more interested in taxing Canadians, keeping the money and putting it into government programs. The sponsorship program is in the spotlight today at the Gomery commission. Some $250 million was wasted.

The Liberals just want the money to come in their direction so they can turn around and look after their friends and not worry about the Canadians who have to pay those taxes. It is all for the benefit of the Liberal Party and the Liberal government, so they can stay in power. They make promises at election time with no thought about keeping them. It does not worry them as long as they win the election at any price. We are not going to let the Liberal Party sit over there thinking that any price means a loss of Canadian jobs, be they in Quebec, in Newfoundland and along the Atlantic coast, in British Columbia, in Alberta, or anywhere else in the country.

Canada has been a great nation. We are only 30 million people but we have had the capacity in decades past to demonstrate to the world that we are a leader. That comes from leadership. It comes from having a plan. It comes from saying that this is how we are going to make Canada strong; this is how we are going to make Canada prosperous. Waiting until the jobs disappear and then wondering what we should do is no strategy at all.

I would hope that based on today's motion from the Bloc Québécois the government would realize that this is a wake-up call for it to sit down with the provinces and the leaders in the private sector in this country. A new strategy must be developed to ensure that Canada is a leader in the world; that prosperity is ours because we have earned it by working hard for it; that we can compete in the world because education makes us capable of paying much higher wages than elsewhere. If we do not do that, the future will be grim indeed.

China, with hundreds of millions of workers and a population of 1.3 billion, has the ability to overwhelm not just Canada but the entire western world through its capacity to produce more for less. If we think we can sit idly by and it will all happen and we are going to be fine, we are all going to be rich, it is not so. It requires leadership and unfortunately I do not see very much coming from that side of the House.

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11:30 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is very knowledgeable on international issues. However, at the end of the day he must understand very clearly, if we look at the proof in the pudding, that our country has led the G-7 nations in terms of economic growth over the last seven years. That is proof of good economic and fiscal management.

Can we do better? Yes, we can. I think our mutual objective is the reduction in the barriers to trade. However if we maintain and increase the barriers to trade we hurt, not only our country but other countries too.

Our objective is to reduce the barriers to trade but we will not, in any way, shape or form, abandon the textile industry. We have put together a $70 million package to improve its capabilities so it will be a leader internationally.

A mythology out there says that if we remove the barriers to trade our companies somehow cannot compete. That is not so. Strong education, the removal of unnecessary rules and regulations, the reduction of taxes so we have a competitive tax structure, infrastructure, education and our companies, regardless of what they are, will and do compete.

I cite the example of the shoe industry. Years ago in the shoe manufacturing industry those companies that manufactured shoes in Canada said that they could not compete if we removed the barriers to trade. When the barriers to trade were removed, our production and export of shoes actually increased.

Our Canadian companies can compete. The member, though, is correct. If we do not have the fertile ground of a competitive tax structure and we do not remove the barriers to trade then we will be hamstringing our companies. The government will not let that happen.

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11:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the parliamentary secretary acknowledged that high taxes are detrimental to job creation in this country. There is only one place to blame for high taxes and that is on that side of the House.

I am also glad to hear that the member does recognize that free trade generates wealth but eliminating all barriers and giving people every advantage so they can knock off Canadian jobs is not everything.

We have had great success in being able to compete abroad. Our agricultural industry is a great example. There are huge subsidies in the United States and in Europe and yet our farmers are able to compete against the best in the world. Our Canadian employees and companies can compete anywhere in competition against the world but It does require that they do not get one hand tied behind their back by the agreements signed by the government. That is what we are trying to say.

Yes, we understand that the world is changing. Yes, we understand we are going global and trade is global. However we should not tie the hands of our manufacturers and give the benefit to the other side who says that we can import textiles, make clothes and manufacture goods and then ship them back here in competition to us.

Surely, in the developing world, we want to help agriculture. We want to help every job we can in that country and give them a chance to prosper, rather than knocking off our Canadian jobs.

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11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning, the Bloc brought forward a motion. I think that it is an important motion for textile workers.

This morning, the speakers all come from the same side of the House. We have not heard from the Liberals. I hear less and less of them. We just heard from one on their members, because the Liberals had to responding to what we were saying. However, they remained silent after that. The debate should not be on one side only, but on both sides.

Protectionist measures have been alluded to. I understand why we have those measures. I heard that the government put $50 million then added another $30 million. That is a smoke screen.

The agreements the Liberals signed and the protectionist measures they introduced put jobs in jeopardy but we do not hear about that. The only thing we hear is that textile companies will have to innovate to survive. What is being forgotten here is the human dimension. We never hear about that.

POWA, which is an important program, was mentioned. The Liberals should talk more about what they are going to tell or do for those who lose their jobs. What will they tell those who will end up on social welfare tomorrow morning? They have nothing to offer them. They have protectionist measures for the textile industry, but nothing for the workers.

I would like the Liberals to tell us--

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11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but the time has expired. The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert has the floor.

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11:35 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is what I said. The government has no plan and no vision. It just reacts to problems as they come along. My hon. colleague has just pointed out that in the textile industry there is no vision.

I think back to the Prairies and the Wheat Board. The Wheat Board is another example of an anachronism that is long overdue for an overhaul and elimination but the government clings to the Wheat Board. What about job creation on the Prairies? We grow the best wheat in the world for making pasta but there is no pasta made on the Prairies. Why? It is because the Wheat Board shipped all the grain overseas so we could bring it back as pasta. There is no job creation in this country.

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11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely have to respond to the comments made by the parliamentary secretary earlier concerning the Canadian economy, because they are critical to our debate of this important motion. He told us that Canada was out in front in terms of its economic growth.

I want to cite a major report about the quality of jobs in Canada, released a few weeks ago. Prepared by Statistics Canada, this report clearly demonstrates that the quality of jobs in Canada is decreasing. First of all, young workers are being offered increasingly less-well-paid jobs. Second, there are more and more temporary jobs in the Canadian economy.

Furthermore, it is very important to stress the issue of pension plans. Fewer and fewer Canadian workers, less than 40%, have access to pension funds, whereas the figure was 50% ten years or so ago.

After 10 years of Liberals in power, it is clear that the quality of workers' jobs is worsening across the country. We also know that Canadian workers on average are earning 60¢ less than they did 15 years ago. In my view, this is a fact that is important to stress and present in the House of Commons, because it is a fact that the government does not recognize. It does not recognize that Canadian workers are earning less, are increasingly obliged to take short-term employment, and are afraid of reaching retirement age because they have ever less access to a pension fund. All of this is very important.

It should be noted in this debate that, where employment is concerned, this government is a total failure. It is in that context that I rise to speak about the opposition motion tabled by the hon. member for Joliette. This is a very important motion and one that is supported by us, the NDP caucus.

The first words of this motion read as follows:

That the House acknowledge the inadequacy of the assistance plan for the clothing and textile industries which was announced by the federal government following the closure of six plants in Huntingdon—

This is very important, because we know that for years the clothing and textile industry has been dreading the measures that were activated on January 1, 2005. The representatives of this industry have come many times to ask that measures be set up to protect these industries. And what has happened? Nothing.

Later I will speak of the proposals that have been made to the Standing Committee on Finance by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre on behalf of our party. However, it must be said that this government did not act so long as the crisis was to any degree hidden. But last December it erupted fully and plainly throughout the country. And then all Canadians realized the lack of action by this government.

What we saw in Huntingdon was the closure of two mills that were key to the Quebec industry. We also saw the repercussions of those closures in other sectors in Winnipeg,Toronto and Vancouver. We saw the closure of the Cleyn & Tinker textile mills. We saw the closure of businesses in Huntingdon. Over 800 jobs have disappeared in a community of 2,600 people. It is plain as day that this catastrophe could have been avoided if the government had acted well beforehand and taken the appropriate measures.

But it did nothing. That evening I saw the announcements made on television.The workers knew very well that the government had not supported them. I remember very clearly a worker from Huntingdon who said that the government had done nothing. That is what happened. Since that is the reality, I am very happy to be able to speak to this motion, which is very important.

Industry representatives have been coming here for months, if not years. Other representatives from other companies have come as well. We had the president of Western Glove Works, who noted in his remarks that, one year ago, there were 1,290 employees here in Canada. He said that this number had fallen to fewer than 600 and, if the government did not take action, he thought that there would be only 121 employees by 12 to 18 months from now.

That was the situation last December. We had a debate in the House on the plant closings in Huntingdon, where hundreds of Canadians lost their jobs. We all heard the comments of the industry representatives. They were very clear that they needed action on the part of the government. Finally, pushed to the wall, the government reacted.

It took three measures after the crisis erupted. In view of the magnitude of the crisis, these three steps clearly did not suffice.

First, it eliminated the tariffs on fibre and yarn imports, a measure worth $15 million a year, and on imports of the textile inputs used by the apparel industry, worth about $75 million a year. This did not have much of an effect, it must be said, but at least the industry got a little help.

In my view, however, it was only because the government was in a minority situation that it felt forced to react. It is very clear that the other three parties in the House were very frustrated with the government's lack of action.

Second, the government allocated an additional $50 million over five years to textile production efficiency. This amounts to $10 million a year. We know now that we have about 4,000 textile and apparel companies in Canada. If this amount is distributed among the 3,900 companies, it makes a difference of perhaps $200 to $300 a month for each company. That is not very much for an industry in crisis, not very much for the hundreds of jobs that have been lost.

In Quebec, we have lost 10,000 jobs while this Liberal government has been in power. All across the country, 40,000 jobs have been lost. We know very well, then, that in view of the magnitude of this crisis, $200 to $300 a month per company is very little. It is not enough. As in other crises in this country, the government has done very little and too late.

The last measure taken in a rush, just before the House adjourned for the holidays, was to extend by five years the application of the orders in effect, but only for 24 months, after which the orders will be gradually eliminated over the final three years of this period. We are talking about a reprieve of 24 months for an industry in crisis.

What can be said for sure is that the problems have not been solved nor has the magnitude of the crisis in the industry been reduced by the few actions that the government has taken too late.

What are the other things that have been suggested? In December 2004, when we knew, in this corner of the House, that action needed to be taken, despite the fact that the Liberal government refused to acknowledge the size and scope of the crisis, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre moved a motion asking the federal government to immediately extend for a further seven years the duty remission orders covering the apparel sector that were set to expire on December 31, 2004. The motion received support from three of the four corners of the House. As we know, the debate was basically talked out and no decision was taken.

It is in that context, when a solution that would have significantly helped the industry, which the government talked out, that it was clear that the government did not acknowledge the size and scope of the crisis: the 40,000 jobs that were lost on its watch; 10,000 jobs in Quebec on its watch; lost jobs that have not been acknowledged and have not been dealt with.

The three measures that were taken were to eliminate tariffs on fibre and yarn imports and on imports of textile inputs used by the apparel industry; to provide $50 million, which is $200 to $300 per month for each of the 3,900 enterprises across the country in this sector; and, extend the duty remission orders for only two years and then phase them out the following three years.

It is in that context that we need to compare the actions of the government, which was too little too late, to the suggestions and positive policies being proposed from this corner of the House and the other two corners of the House. Clearly, the three opposition parties were demanding action.

The finance committee also brought forth recommendations in April 2004. I will review those three recommendations.

The first recommendation was that the federal government immediately extend for a further seven years the duty remissions orders covering the apparel sector that were set to expire on December 31, 2004, similar to the motion by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre which was a concrete action that should have been taken.

The second recommendation was that the federal government immediately end tariffs on inputs that are not produced domestically. Textile producers seeking continued tariff protection should be required to establish that they sell their products to Canadian apparel manufacturers.

The third recommendation from the finance committee was to show that there had been good work and lots of policy being produced and proposed in the other three corners of the House that the government could have taken up but chose not to. It chose instead to keep its head buried in the sand until it was too late.

The third recommendation was that the federal government immediately undertake a study of temporary adaptation measures to enhance competitiveness, as well as the benefits and costs of eliminating tariffs on imports of fabric for use in the Canadian apparel sector, the types and quantities of products produced by the Canadian textile industry, and the practice of tariff differentiation on fabrics based on their end use, and that the results of the study should be tabled in Parliament.

We had the recommendations from the finance committee and we had the motion by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre but what we saw was very little action taken too late.

I would like to address another issue concerning the small amount of money, $385,000, provided by the government to organizations that work with older workers and immigrants to help them retrain. We have been talking about job losses in the tens of thousands; 40,000 lost jobs on the Liberal watch. In December, of course, we saw the loss of hundreds of jobs in the space of a few days. The government provided $385,000.

Let us contrast that with other decisions taken by the Liberal government: $1 billion in tax cuts put forward for the largest and most profitable corporations; $125 million in the sponsorship scandal that was given to Liberal friendly ad firms.

When we contrast the huge amounts of money allocated by the government to its friends and funders to the $385,000 spread out among the hundreds and thousands of lost jobs to retrain older workers, we see who the government really believes it represents.

I have seen in British Columbia how the lack of action by the government is hurting workers in our softwood industry which has seen 20,000 lost jobs. The industry is now being faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in legal bills and countervailing duties that are taking billions of dollars out of the industry and the government has done virtually nothing, except to go cap in hand occasionally to Washington.

We have seen the lack of action on homelessness. We have seen the lack of action on child poverty, as the numbers continue to grow. Homelessness in my region on the lower mainland of British Columbia has more than tripled. We have seen the lack of action on child care and the lack of action of fighting back and maintaining a public health care system. We consistently see lack of action in every sector, and very clearly in the clothing and textile industry and the catastrophe that arrived at the end of 2004. The actions by the government have been too little taken too late.

The motion today is welcome and we will support it because the government has not been responsible in dealing with this crisis. The government has not been proactive in dealing with something that we knew months before was developing. When the industry was very proactive in coming here and telling us what it needed to maintain the jobs, the government dithered and dithered until it was too late and those jobs were lost.

The measures taken were too little too late. The dithering has sorely hurt an important sector that brings billions of dollars in export revenues to Canada. For that reason and the other reasons I have mentioned, we will be supporting the motion.

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11:55 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the member is coming from but he has been comatose during his time in the House.

Let us look specifically at my province of British Columbia, which he brought up. Let us look at NDP economics versus the current Liberal government's economics in British Columbia. Right now British Columbia is the best place to do business in Canada. Right now it has the lowest unemployment in its history. It has a faster growing and more vibrant economy than it has had in many years.

We can contrast that to the time of the NDP government in British Columbia where we had the highest unemployment rates, the worst economy in Canada and we were sinking further and further into a muddy, horrible place that would damage all British Columbians, particularly the poor. If we were to adopt NDP voodoo economics, we would have a situation where we would have higher unemployment, a worsening economy and less money to pay for the social programs, which we all want and support, to help those who are in need.

On the issue of helping the textile industry, the government has put $70 million into the textile industry. It is working with members of the textile industry to ensure they can be competitive.

The NDP likes to talk about the international issue. If Stephen Lewis were here, he would be appalled at what the member and his party have been advocating. The NDP leader said that ever since free trade was brought in and everything was thrown open to the world markets, we have seen garment production begin to fall. The member from Winnipeg said that the worship of the free market was a graven image. They cannot have it both ways.

The biggest obstacle to developing countries, the poorest of the poor in the world, is the fact that developed countries maintain high tariffs, protectionism and an unfair trading system that does not enable those countries and workers, some of the poorest people in the world, to produce, market and sell their goods internationally. The maintenance of protectionism and high trade barriers, which the west, quite frankly, continues to do, is the biggest obstacle to enabling these people to help themselves.

I take real umbrage with what the member is saying because he is deeply and profoundly wrong in almost everything that he has just said.

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11:55 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting to hear the parliamentary secretary's comments. I guess he does not travel to British Columbia often, because if he did he would be able to see the impact of the policies of Premier Gordon Campbell on British Columbia.

We had record deficits after the balanced budget that was handed over in the change of government in 2001. We have had record deficit levels. We had the closure of women's shelters virtually throughout the province of British Columbia. In my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, we had the closure of St. Mary's Hospital, a very important hospital that actually provided vital health support in that community. Other communities have seen their hospitals closed down and their courthouses closed down, and all of this when faced with a record deficit brought about by what? Brought about by tax cuts for the wealthiest British Columbians. It is a wrong-headed policy and it means that we have lived through record deficits, rising homelessness and hospital closures.

That is why, when British Columbians are asked who they trust, two-thirds of them do not believe that the premier of British Columbia can be trusted to keep his promises. He said one thing when he went into the election in 2001, but he did a completely set of priorities. There was a priority for the wealthiest of British Columbians and it meant that most British Columbians have had to suffer over user fees increasing, payments for services increasing, record deficits and the closure of vital services.

If the parliamentary secretary travelled more often to British Columbia, he would of course see the rise in homelessness, the rise in food bank numbers and the rise in poverty in British Columbia.

He talked about the NDP stand on fiscal policy. A neutral and very credible study was done comparing the three major parties, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP, over a 20 year period when they were in government, using their actual fiscal period returns from 1981 to 2001.

Who had the worst record, not in terms of what they projected but in terms of what they actually did? The Liberals did. Eighty-five per cent of the time their budgets and fiscal period returns were in deficit. The Conservatives were a little better at two-thirds of the time for federal and provincial governments across the country in that 20 year period being in deficit.

The NDP had the best record. Most of the time when we project balanced budgets we achieve them, because we have an honest approach to fiscal period returns and to budgeting.

When Canadians compare the actual facts of the matter, not the rhetoric, not the verbosity and not the hot air, but the actual fiscal period returns, most of them will be pleased to know that the NDP has the best record of any federal or provincial political party.

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Noon

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster had me until his last comments and I do not want to go there. I want to return to the textile and clothing industry.

I must say that I agreed with a lot of his initial remarks. This is what I would like him to comment on. When listening to the parliamentary secretary talking about their policies, I get the impression that the Liberals said they were not going to support this resolution because they did not like the words “inadequacy of the assistance plan”. They say that the safeguards already exist. If all these things are going on, why is the textile and clothing industry in such a mess?

I would like the member to comment on a remark recently made by the minister in the The Hill Times . He said:

At the end of the day, it is the activities and decisions of individual companies that determine how they adjust to changing market conditions and challenges.

In other words: “We give up. We do not know what we are going to do”.

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Noon

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is very clearly what has happened. We had the industry people come here and say very clearly what kinds of things they needed. Given what we knew was going to happen on January 1, the government did absolutely nothing. It dithered and dithered and dithered some more.

Then we had the crisis in Huntingdon with the loss of hundreds of jobs and suddenly the government realized it would have to do something. What it did was too little, too late. I have outlined those three policies that were brought in--as I said in French, une catastrophe--at the last minute in mid-December. Very clearly the government did not know how to handle this crisis, as we have seen in so many other areas, from softwood lumber to the crisis of homelessness. I could go on, but unfortunately time does not permit that.

The hon. member is right. The government did not take action when it should have.

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Noon

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to see my NDP colleague's commitment to Quebec. The loss of 10,000 jobs in Quebec is certainly a catastrophe.

In my riding of Trois-Rivières, the Fruit of the Loom company lost 600 jobs in 2001. Among the victims of these cuts are men, but also many women who are suffering as a result of the government's lack of vision and compassion.

This Bloc Québécois opposition day also gives us a chance to discuss solutions to overcome these job losses. In my riding, we relied on a program for promoting the purchase of locally made products called Un emploi pour ma région, or a job for my region. Why could the large machinery of government not make purchases that would allow us to use and operate our textile plants?

A great deal of effort is needed in terms of modernization and conversion support. In wanting to enter new markets, one has to remember that mid- to high-end clothing already exists. Are these solutions that could work? When we talk about reconfiguring the industry, we have to talk about government subsidies for help.

What does my colleague think of these suggestions?

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Trois-Rivières for her question.

There were huge job losses in Quebec. I am talking about 10,000 jobs in the clothing industry and an additional 15,000 jobs in the textile industry.

Measures absolutely need to be implemented for these industries. I find the suggestion on purchasing locally made products to be very important and very interesting. This government does not even buy Canadian flags in Canada, as the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay pointed out in the House last week. Even the Canadian flags handed out in the Parliament of Canada are made in China.

The suggestion is very important. All the opposition parties in this House must continue to pressure this government to take action.

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12:05 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak in this debate on the Bloc Québécois motion to help the clothing and textile industries. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who represents the region of the municipality of Huntingdon, which has unfortunately been dealt a direct blow because of the federal government's failure to act. He will be able to describe it better than I can.

This motion arose from the experience of many of our ridings. When we think of companies like Consoltex Holdings and Bermatex in Montmagny, Confection 131 in Saint-Pacôme, Confection M.P.M. in Sainte-Perpétue, Élastiques Qualités Ltée and Calko Canada in Rivière-du-Loup, we realize that all types of production are represented in the textile and apparel industry.

There is great discontent everywhere with the announcement the federal government made in a panic right after the announced closures in Huntingdon to try to appease the resultant unrest. The government announced an incomplete action plan in which several important components are missing.

On December 17, following the government's announcement, the Canadian Textiles Institute, through its CEO, Harvey Penner, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, listing what was missing in the government's plan.

That is what prompted the Bloc Québécois to present this motion, which I would like to read again:

That the House acknowledge the inadequacy of the assistance plan for the clothing and textile industries which was announced by the federal government following the closure of six plants in Huntingdon, and that it ask the government to further elaborate with regard to the following elements: the use of safeguards provided for in trade agreements, the implementation of measures to encourage the use of Quebec--and Canadian--made textiles and the creation of a program to assist older workers.

We hope that the House will support this motion. We are sending the federal government the very clear message that its current action is inadequate. It ought to proceed with further action.

I will quickly explain the very concrete proposals made by the Canadian Textiles Institute. First, the decision made by the federal government to lift the quotas and custom duties on textile imports for the least developed countries was a good measure. However, some adjustments should have been made, particularly as regards the rule of origin to the effect that, clothing produced in a developing country, in one of the world's poorest countries, can be imported to Canada.

However, the Americans have a rule that the textiles used must be from the United States, whereas Canada does not have such a rule. This is rather hard on our textile industry. The president of the Canadian Textiles Institute made the following comment:

—This was one of the main recommendations that we made to your ministers and public servants, but Tuesday's announcement totally ignored these recommendations.—

The first conclusion is that the federal government ignored that recommendation by the textile industry.

The second remark has to do precisely with the fact that the U.S. government signed a series of agreements with various countries, particularly Caribbean countries, to apply the rule to which I referred earlier, namely that textiles produced in the United States are sold to those Caribbean countries, which make and finish clothing, which then returns to the United States market.

If the textiles used to make the clothes do not come from the United States, the products cannot be exported there. This practice violates NAFTA, since that agreement created a free trade zone. However, the Americans have found a way of circumventing the rules.

I hope that the next time the Prime Minister of Canada, President Bush and President Fox of Mexico meet, this issue will be on the agenda, so that Mexico may be asked to have the same type of arrangement, or the rules may be the same for everyone. Currently, this way of doing things contributes to the closure of our textile mills.

This morning, an article by Hélène Baril in the daily La Presse clearly stated, “The Canadian textile industry ousted by the American market.” This is one of the fundamental reasons there are fewer employees at textile mills and mills are being closed. So, we must be able to counter this measure. Here again, the head of the Canadian Textiles Institute said that “We need a plan B to restore our share of the American market”.

This point was raised on numerous occasions with ministers and staff. However, it was never addressed in the announcement. So, in the plan introduced on the day before, that is, December 16, there was no confirmation either that anything would be done to fix this. This was the second serious measure on which recommendations were made to the federal government. Recommendations were not just made on December 17, but during the previous months. I have proof of this in a letter sent to me, which presented the government with a complete plan several months prior.

This aspect is also missing from the government's position. So, there are serious problems.

The letter sent to the Prime Minister indicates, and I quote:

A program, which would allow apparel imports to be duty-free if they were made using Canadian textiles, would allow us to expand our export market and would open the doors to new foreign clients, who would doubtless have an interest in buying our products. We recommended such a program to your ministers and your officials and we were disappointed to see that this measure was not included in the announcement.

So, the textile industry strongly condemns the action plan released in such a hurry as totally unsuitable. It would take a second wave as soon as possible to counter the negative effects. Jobs are disappearing one after another. Again last week, representatives of Gildan Activewear made the candid admission that their decision was the result of not having access to the American market and that access to the American market needed to be found. Businesses are not trying to circumvent legislation. They are struggling with the regulations and the legislation. They want a suitable legislative framework, which they do not currently have. The assistance packages announced are clearly insufficient.

I think we also need very positive measures such as labelling. In order for consumers to make wise choices, they need to know exactly where products were made, by whom and in what conditions. For instance, in the suit I am wearing right now there is a label saying “made in Canada“. Nowadays, when we make purchases, we are aware of those things. However, many products are not clearly labelled. In addition, in the case of many products, only the last steps of production take place in Canada. We ought to know about the whole chain of production because, as consumers, each of us has a responsibility in that regard.

Today's motion calls on the federal government to do more. As consumers, we have certain responsibilities to help industries function properly, but the government has to send a clear message to that effect.

It is also important to put aside the suggestion made by the federal government that it is better not to do anything for the apparel and textile industry, implying that, over time, the jobs lost will be replaced by others, in different industries.

The textile industry can have a future. The federal government should move forward and help this industry develop, and it should promote research and development through Technology Partnerships Canada. To this day, this program has been used to help the new economy. Great, but there are traditional industries where the federal government should invest, such as the furniture industry—even if we are dealing today with the clothing and textile industry. Textiles can include geotextiles, for example. And there is a future in health care too, where textiles could be used with drugs. The potential is there, but we should invest in research and development. Unfortunately, that is not an option right now.

In short, this program is inadequate. The clothing industry knows the measures that have been implemented, but we are still waiting for the Canadian International Trade Tribunal to go through with what the government has announced in December. With each passing day and month, with nothing being done, companies affected by this decision of the tribunal are losing money, becoming less competitive and less able to face the situation they are in.

To conclude, I met people from the clothing and textile industry at a seminar of exporters and manufacturers. The clothing industry would like the measures that have been announced to be implemented so they can have an impact. But for the textile industry, a whole section of the program is missing.

Hopefully, tonight, when we vote on this motion, a majority will send a clear message to the federal government: “Do your homework again and finish what you have started. If you do not move, you will be responsible for the demise of an industry that provides a lot of jobs in Quebec, and these jobs will be lost if the federal government does not do something soon.”