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.