Mr. Speaker, I wish to praise the initiative of the Bloc Québecois whereby it devoted one of its opposition days to the current situation in the textile industry, while underlining the insufficiency of the clothing and textile industries assistance plan made public by the government after the closing of six plants in Huntingdon.
What happened in December 2004 does not constitute an isolated case. A long time before that, as the member for Drummond, I had outlined in the House the concerns of the people living in my riding in the wake of the numerous job losses we had sustained in this important industrial sector.
I would like to give you the facts.
When Celanese shut down in March 2000, after a long agony, 5,000 people ended up unemployed.
Seven months later, Cavalier textile put an end to its operations: 97 people lost their jobs.
In December 2003, the management of Swift Denim announced it would cease its denim manufacturing operations in April 2004: as a result, 600 people were laid off.
At the time of each closing, I met with union representatives and we asked the government to put in place some measures, in particular to help older workers who lose their jobs. Those measures had been in existence until 1993, when they were abolished by the Liberals. They had promised an improved program. We know what a Liberal promise is worth!
In the case of Denim Swift, we created a strategy committee to try to prevent the loss of 600 jobs. Union representatives, the industrial commissioner of the city of Drummondville, representatives of the Quebec government and my colleague from the National Assembly sat around the same table. At my request, the then Minister of Industry agreed to delegate a representative from Canada Economic Development.
After a number of meetings, given the impasse and federal government's inaction, we asked to meet with the then minister. At this meeting, we were told that the government had commissioned studies, the results of which we are still waiting for. We can no longer expect anything from this minister, because she has changed departments. However, today, we are still waiting for studies, more studies, consultations and even more studies.
Although the textile sector in Canada was experiencing difficulties, the government had nothing to propose to support the companies facing threats from Asia or elsewhere.
The unfortunate occurred and hundreds of jobs were lost. What happened in Drummondville was a sign of things to come elsewhere. Many Quebec municipalities have seen their textile industries close.
The government was unresponsive to this industry's situation, to the extent that even the current Minister of Finance admitted in this House, in response to my questions, that he never had any knowledge of letters from the American president of Denim Swift. Those letters condemned the negative impact of the federal government's inaction with regard to the lifting of tariff barriers in January.
The government was slow to react and waited until the House adjourned in December to distribute what amounted to crumbs. The timid and tardy measures, announced noncommittally in the House, are insufficient.
However, the Bloc Québécois made a number of proposals to provide effective support to the textile industry: recourse to safeguards at the government's disposal without contravening international agreements; the introduction of incentives to promote the use of Quebec and Canadian textiles; the adoption of an international policy to prevent companies from relocating to areas with cheaper labour—we must remember that the Celanese plant closed in Drummondville and moved to Mexico; the establishment of assistance measures adapted to the needs of workers in companies closing their doors.
People cannot point the finger at us, because since 1997, not a week has gone by where we have not demanded, in this House, measures to support older workers losing their jobs.
There is also the creation of a program to help with the modernization of the clothing and textile sectors which would stimulate both R and D and creativity.
The question that comes to our minds, as well as those of the people in our ridings, is this: why did the federal government act this way, and in whose interest?
Basically, it is a matter of how we got to this state.
In a recent La Presse article, reported Tristan Péloquin listed the events and government decisions behind this crisis.
When, ten years ago, the government agreed along with the members of the World Trade Organization during the Uruguay round of negotiations to gradually phase out import quotas under the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, what were its true intentions? What were its objectives?
We are forced to admit that the textile sector served as a bargaining chip. The reporter's investigation led him to the following conclusions:
The signature of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing did not come about without negotiations behind the scenes. The western countries, aware as they were that their own businesses would be hit hard by the elimination of import quotas, tied signature of the agreement to the adoption of an international agreement on intellectual property—TRIPS, trade-related intellectual property—which forces the developing countries to acknowledge the legislation on copyrights and industrial patents, ownership of protected brand names and so forth. This also included TRIMS—an agreement on trade-related investment measures—which allowed businesses to invest anywhere in the world in sectors traditionally closed to foreign investment.
This marked the beginning of the end for the textile and clothing industry. The government did not say much about this, except that the present Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated during a visit to our area that his government no longer believed in the future of the textile industry.
The textile and clothing industry is in the process of losing its shirt. Still today, as we have been doing for the past 10 years, the Bloc Québécois is making proposals we encourage the government to adopt in order to help out our industry. I invite the members of the present government to set aside their partisan views, to acknowledge with us the scope of the harm done by their inaction, and to try to save what is left of this industry.
I am fully aware that the measures taken will not bring back the jobs already lost in Drummondville or elsewhere in Quebec. But at least, we have to make sure that the plants that are still there today can survive. The government must strongly support the businesses involved in research and development projects on specialized products and those that have moved into export markets with specific products.
If the government does not do anything, we can expect significant job losses in the coming months. The federal government knows it quite well. A few weeks ago, several Quebec local development centres signed a letter to remind Ottawa of the need for quick action.
Apparently there are still about 76 000 people in Quebec who make a living in the textile and clothing industry. The government has to act responsibly and to seriously consider, in a non-partisan way, the recommendations made by the Bloc Québécois. We have to help businesses get through this crisis.
I urge the government and all the members to support the Bloc Québécois' motion that puts forward measures to save the textile industry and to help our older workers through a difficult time. They have lost their jobs and have no other alternative than to rely on social assistance. It is very hard for them and it deeply affects their dignity.