Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for sharing her time with me.
It took me only a few weeks here in the House of Commons to realize, with great disappointment, that the government is a lot better at creating crisis than at managing them. The current crisis in the Quebec's apparel and textile industry is a testament to the federal government's inertia and incompetence.
Unfortunately, several Quebec textile and apparel plants recently had to close their doors and we can be sure that the minister's inability to take the necessary actions will cause several others to go under.
It took time for the federal government to act and the few measures it took are clearly insufficient to solve the problem. None of these measures could prevent a massive job loss like we saw in Huntingdon, for example.
For several months now, the Bloc has been warning the Liberal government about the serious threat that would represent the loss of thousands of jobs in the textile industry in Quebec. For several months now, the Bloc has been asking for transition measures to alleviate the negative impacts of the elimination of quotas on Canadian imports of clothing and textile material.
A number of businesses had already been hit by fierce competition in that field. The elimination of quotas will inevitably force more workers into unemployment.
In spite of our numerous reminders, the Liberal government has been dragging its feet on that issue and has not reacted to the job losses and the economic downturns in the regions in Quebec.
The Canadian Apparel and Textiles Industries Program, CATIP in short, was put in place in January 2003 and is being offered to businesses until September 30, 2005. However, all the assistance made available under that program has been distributed already.
That program could subsidize up to 50% of all eligible costs to a maximum amount of $100,000. The ceiling was strongly criticized by the members of the Bloc Québécois when it was put in place, because it greatly restricted the ability of larger businesses to adapt.
Another similar initiative, the Canadian Textiles Program, CANtex in short, was put in place by the Liberal government in 2004 in order to help the Canadian businesses involved in textile production to become more competitive. That program is similar to the Canadian Apparel and Textiles Industries Program, but only the textile sector is eligible. It is a poor plan, and so stingy that it does not even enable the industry to improve its lot in a significant way.
There have been many closures and layoffs despite the existence of these two programs. It is high time that the minister took action to help workers in this industry.
The government is the one responsible for negotiating international trade agreements and it chose to have open borders in this industry. It is also this same government that terminated the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, or POWA. It is also this government that, through its inaction, accumulates huge budget surpluses, over $9 billion last year alone, at the expense of workers and of the provinces.
This government needs to act responsibly once and for all by putting in place transition measures and providing assistance so the industry can adapt.
On December 14, 2004, as a result of constant pressure by the Bloc Québécois, the Liberal government announced precipitously various measures to help the clothing and textile industry.
The motion brought forward today by the Bloc Québécois calls upon the House to acknowledge the inadequacy of the assistance plan and the need for the government to further elaborate with regard to the following elements.
First, it is imperative to use the safeguards provided for in trade agreements by ensuring that import duties on clothing and textile not made in Canada are maintained.
It is necessary to impose quotas on Chinese imports under China's WTO accession protocol. Such a measure would protect the industry while it is adjusting to the new reality of international competition. Moreover, the government would then prevent the Canadian market from being flooded with clothing and textiles made by the Chinese industry at a very low cost.
Second, we should have incentives to use Quebec and Canadian textiles.
Third, we should earmark funds to help the workers of those mills that are shutting down, by facilitating quick access to employment insurance and by restoring the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, or POWA.
The closure of the Huntingdon mills, just before Christmas last year, is a graphic example. These sad events clearly demonstrated the urgent need to set up a program that is geared to the reality of that industry, where a large number of the workers who are laid off are 50 years old or more and will have a hard time getting back into the workforce. A show of compassion towards these workers could help give them pride and hope.
I will conclude by saying that the Bloc Québécois is asking the government to act. The Bloc is proposing solutions to this issue. We cannot do too much to help an industry that has survived NAFTA and that will survive the WTO, provided the minister can convince his government to help that industry and to do so right now.
What does the government intend to do to help the textile and clothing industries? Is it because of a lack of political will that it is taking so long to help affected communities?