Mr. Speaker, it is with both great sadness and great enthusiasm that I rise today to speak on this motion. I am sad because this is indeed a problem, in the textile industry in particular, affecting families which bear the brunt of decisions that were or ought to have been made. All this resulted in these people experiencing the tragedy of unemployment, with everything this entails in personal, family and human terms.That is on the sad side.
The brighter side has to do with the messages of hope that we can hear, much more generally, where textile and economic diversification is concerned, particularly in Quebec.
I would like, if I may, to review briefly actions taken by representatives of my government, not only in macroeconomic terms, but also in terms of my department in particular, Canada Economic Development, both under my predecessors and under myself.
There is an economist by the name of Denis Audet who works for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. This is not an organization that lacks credibility; it is actually a world renowned organization. So, this economist with the OECD wrote that the future of the textile industry in Canada can be considered positively. Despite the fact that textile export quotas were lifted, the companies that adjusted are the ones most likely to succeed.
The textile and apparel industries in Canada, their products and the people who started them do have a long established tradition of innovation, creativity and commercial success.
Many businesses in that industry are indeed successful. On Monday, the CEO for Quebec of the international association representing industrial textile manufacturers praised Richard Bouthillier, of Les Chapiteaux du monde in Baie-Saint-Paul, among others. Mr. Bouthillier's initiative was described as visionary and bold. Mr. Bouthillier was reported as having developed the market for vinyl festival tents. Today, such structures are available from every rental company in Quebec.
Of course we live in an ever-changing world. I strongly believe that we have to face reality and not bury our heads in the sand. The competition that surfaces everywhere makes it more and more difficult for us to compete against some foreign producers in the area of mass production.
This brings me back to the speech I made in the House when Bill C-9, which is now before the committee, was introduced. It is obvious that if we want to overcome those challenges, we cannot stick to old solutions. We have to look forward, to promote innovation and productivity and to diversify the economies to make the regions less dependant on one or two economic development sources.
Not only do we see the changes happening, but we also see them multiply at an accelerated rate.
First of all, we have to realize that this problem is not due to one business executive, one employee or one government, be it provincial, municipal or other. It is really a joint problem, a societal problem. We all have a role to play to make three important things happen. Firs, it is very important that we do not bury our heads in the sand and that we recognize the changes that are under way. Second, we have to think, not about the deficit that this entails, but about the development opportunities that all of this can bring. Finally, we have to explore the best ways to adapt to these new realities.
Of course textile companies are no exceptions. If they want to carry on, the Canadian apparel and textile industries have to specialize and modernize their operations. I repeat that the solutions lie mainly in the research and development of exclusive products adapted to a target clientele. The focus must be on quick service and advanced equipment.
The Canadian government has taken a variety of measures to help the textile companies. I will of course talk about the measures that are directly related to the apparel and textile industries in general.
In June 2003, recognizing increasing competition worldwide, the Government of Canada introduced the Canadian Apparel and Textile Industries Program. Insiders called it CATIP. Those who used the program knew it by that name. CATIP was replaced by another program.
What was the purpose of this $33 million program? It was to promote and facilitate partnership with the industry to make it more innovative and better equipped for entering new markets. If I may, I would like to say a few words about this program before moving on to the programs that followed CATIP.
I think it is somewhat regrettable that my colleague from Drummond—although I can understand where she is coming from because she does represent an affected region—is so quick to blame the federal government as though it were responsible for every problem in the world. I think that approach is too simple. It may not be surprising, but it is too simple. It oversimplifies a problem that is far more complex than that.
Allow me to list a few accomplishments that CATIP made possible. Again, CATIP was the $33 million Canadian Apparel and Textile Industries Program adopted in June 2003 and used throughout Canada.
As for Quebec alone, in other words the portion of this fund that was allocated to Quebec, the Government of Canada invested almost $9.5 million. However, it is interesting to note that this $9.5 million investment produced other investments, beyond that of the federal government, to the tune of $28 million.
I want to be clear about these figures because I believe it is not rhetoric that matters, but facts and figures. This $9.5 million investment by the Government of Canada, which translated into overall investments of $28 million, maintained 12,000 jobs and created 436 others in the textile industry.
When I am told that there is no future for the textile industry in Quebec, I say “Wait a minute. Are we all living on the same planet?” Are there problems? Yes. Are market conditions changing? Yes. Is there a need for economic diversification? Yes. However, do not come and tell me that there is no future for the textile industry in Quebec. That is not true. There is a future, provided we know which product to choose, how to produce it, how to improve productivity, how to find market niches and how to support diversification initiatives.
Of course, some might say that it is fine, but that these are figures. We can easily get carried away with figures, but it is not easy for people watching on television to have a good grasp of these figures. I myself have a hard time doing it. We may be members of Parliament and ministers, but we are consumers first and foremost. We are used to working with hundreds or even thousands of dollars sometimes, but here we are dealing with millions of dollars. So, it is complicated.
Instead of mentioning numbers, let me give some concrete success stories. Those who work for these employers will know that I am referring to them and that I am proud to do so.
First, Régitex, in Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, is a company specializing in the manufacturing of high tech threads for industrial products, clothing and furniture. It used to be a small business. Let us keep in mind that the Government of Canada cannot do everything. We can provide support, but the initiative must really come from the industry, from companies, from leaders with a vision. Today, thanks not only to the support of the Government of Canada, but to the concerted efforts of all these stakeholders, there are 140 people working at Régitex, in Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce.
Here is another example: the Children's Apparel Manufacturers' Association in Montreal set up an on-line credit bureau. Why? To have up to date information on most North-American retailers. What does this mean? It means that this credit bureau provides credit reports and helps assess the risk of a sale for businesses that make products here and want to sell them in the United States. This is a success story.
Let us take another example: Chemises Empire Ltée in Louiseville. It is a modern business, and yet with a time-honoured tradition of excellence. It specializes in the design and manufacture of first-class uniforms for police forces, schools and dozens of organizations everywhere in Canada. That business is a success story, and a spectacular one.
Another example, Confections Alizée plein air inc. in Sainte-Aurélie. As you can see, I am extremely eclectic, I move from one region of Quebec to the other. The managers of that business have combined their love of the outdoors with their design talent. With the help of their employees, in 2003, they have succeeded in creating, or at least developing, an extremely prosperous business. The most tangible proof of their success is the fact that the plan doubled in size.
There is a future for textile, but we must encourage productivity, innovation, market targeting, exports, and marketing. That is what we want to do. We cannot create jobs out of nowhere, but we can encourage job creation, including in the textile industry, and that is what we are doing.
Let me remind you that, in each case, we are dealing with projects or examples that came about after the implementation of a program in 2003. I have not yet had a chance to mention the programs that were put in place subsequently and that considerably improve the 2003 program.
Let me give the House another example, the Groupe CTT/SAGEOS in Saint-Hyacinthe. I am concerned about the Montérégie area, since it is getting pretty close to home. That business works at improving productivity in the Canadian geotextile industry. Why? Because we want to focus on an extremely specialized niche, develop a very specific expertise so that we can become competitive, we can perform and we can sell.
I could also tell you about the Canadian Apparel Federation because one of the problems experienced by small businesses is that they may not have all the necessary networks to develop their markets. Therefore, we must not only work with the businesses themselves, but also with organizations that will be able to provides services to a number of small businesses that would not be affordable to each of them separately. That is what we are doing with the department.
The Canadian Apparel Federation is trying to fill a gap in the efficient promotion of products manufactured by those small businesses by creating a gateway to the industry and a virtual commercial infrastructure.
That was the 2003 Canadian Apparel and Textile Industries Program, a new program that has been improved on at least two occasions and is now CANtex.
In February 2004, in response to the recommendations of a joint government-industry task force, the then Minister of Industry, who was incidentally at the same time the Minister responsible for the Canada Economic Development Agency prior to me, announced new measures aimed specifically at enhancing the international competitiveness of the Canadian apparel and textile industries.
I must apologize to the people affected by this debate, and I know that many are following it because they are affected deeply and directly by the situation. I must, however, cite some figures though I know they are hard to handle and hard to see in concrete terms. They are necessary, however, if only for the sake of integrity in connection with the program and the action taken.
In February 2004, $53.4 million were earmarked by this program, $26.7 million of those for CANtex, a Canadian three-fold initiative focussed on textile production efficiency. There was also an equivalent amount, that is another $26.7 million, for reducing the tariffs on imported textiles used by the Canadian apparel industry. In all, then, $53.4 million.
I have already mentioned the successive improvements, and here is one more. This past December 14, the ministers of finance and of industry announced a number of measures intended to help these same industries be more competitive on the world market. Of course, there is rapid change in those markets and the adaptation has to be rapid as well. This is one of the strengths we need if we are to succeed.
The assistance via this measure of December 14 doubled that announced last February. Naturally an economic structure cannot be totally remade. By that I mean taking into account the major changes that are bringing pressure to bear on the industry, redistributing everything, encouraging innovation, doing R and D and finding outlets.
This cannot be done by snapping our fingers. It is sad, but it takes time. I wish I had a magic wand that I could shake and, poof, all the workers who have lost their job in the textile industry, be it in Huntingdon, Drummondville or elsewhere in the province or the country, would get it back. Unfortunately, I do not have such a wand and neither does anyone else. We must show integrity, and we have work to do.
The fact that we do not have a solution producing results as fast as we all would like in no way means that we have to give up. On the contrary, we have work to do. We must not get mired in political rhetoric. We must work together.
As members know, with regard to Quebec, the implementation of the CANtex program was entrusted to the department I have the honour of heading, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. We are not waiting for a crisis to properly introduce CANtex to all the companies in the province that might be interested by this program. Instead, we are advising all those who play a large or small role in the economy through textiles or apparel that we have money on the table to help them prepare for the future, remain ahead of the game and succeed.
What did we do to achieve this? In December, in collaboration with Industry Canada and a great many partners, we held five information sessions not only for companies, but also for the organizations supporting them. In total, over one hundred companies and regional organizations met with us during these sessions.
I truly want to rise above partisan lines to tell all of these people that we are really doing the maximum. And if this is still not enough, we will do even more than that. However, there is no magic solution. Those who claim there was one have interests that have nothing to do with the reality.
I want to talk briefly about Huntingdon. We know what the problems in this case are: the companies were sold, they moved; ultimately, it is a complex situation. The mayor is fighting and making an enormous effort to save his municipality. A buyback program is underway. Some needs have come to light, in particular the purchase of one of the mills by the municipality. As members know, the way to proceed in this case could come from the area of infrastructures. As members also know, all requests relating to infrastructures come from the local authorities and first go to Quebec for analysis. Once Quebec has given its authorization, we get the file and then we can decide accordingly.
I wish to make a formal statement to the people of Huntingdon that I am prepared to receive Quebec's project, in my capacity as the minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. I want to look into it.
I do not have the time here to go into detail on what we did in connection with Huntingdon, nor do I want to get involved in a propaganda exercise. That is not what I am interested in. We have, however, worked really hard on this. The minister before me launched a series of consultations a few months ago, long before I appeared on the scene. I have taken over from her, and I am doing my best though hers is a hard act to follow.
Economic diversification is important because the textile industry cannot be enough on its own. We cannot settle for single-industry sectors in our cities and towns and hope they will prosper. Diversification is necessary.
I hope that the questions to follow will give me an opportunity to develop that aspect further. I am giving you examples that have nothing to do with the textile industry, but have depressed us equally, because we thought things would never be right again, that the regions would close down, and that would be the end of it. Asbestos is one example of that. At the time, there were 4,000 people, or 20% of the work force, working in the mines. Today there are 1,800 businesses not involved in mining, and of those close to 200 provide 3,500 jobs in the manufacturing sector. Diversification is off to a good start. It is working, although there is still a lot to be done.
I could mention Bas-Saint-Laurent, the Saguenay, the Gaspé, where they are developing wind generators, research centres and diversification involving quartz.
The work of diversification is both essential and fundamental. I want to have the support of all members of the House to continue the work we have begun.