Mr. Speaker, on this the Bloc Québécois opposition day, it was highly relevant to address the situation of the clothing and textile industries, given everything that happened at the end of 2004, especially in Huntingdon. We know there were significant job losses and more to come.
The textile and clothing industries appear pretty straightforward usually. Certain things occur, however, in these industries, leading us to realize that, over the past few years, huge numbers of jobs have been lost.
As an example, in my riding, when Dominion Textile was in Sherbrooke, the Pacifique street mill employed over 2,000 people, including my father and my mother, as was mentioned by the member a while ago. Indeed, they spent their whole life working in the textiles. As you know, it was a relatively difficult industry at the time, as there were often labour disputes, because people in that line of work were under paid. Today, the situation has improved in this regard. However, the fact is that employment levels have gone down markedly.
Indeed, that very building, which is no longer occupied by the same company, now provides only some 125 jobs, as compared with the approximately 2,000 at that time.
The world is changing. At one time, of course, some measures were adopted in Quebec and Canada to protect the clothing and textile industry. Now, we have to face the fact that quotas were eliminated on January 1, 2005.
I remember very well what my colleague the international trade critic for my party said. At the end of November or the beginning of December, he asked the government what it intended to do since quotas were to be abolished on January 1, 2005. He was told that he got worked up for nothing. But the Liberal government had known for more than ten years what was to happen at that date. Obviously the programs that had been put in place, which the minister mentioned a minute ago, were not as successful as expected.
For a while, the Bloc had been making relevant recommendations inspired by the requests and expectations of the clothing and textile industries. Today's motion denounces the inadequacy of the assistance plan put in place by the government just after the announcement of the closure of several plants in Huntingdon. The Bloc Québécois asks the government to further elaborate its assistance plan by making it more efficient for the clothing and textile industries.
The recommendations included in the Bloc's motion comprise the three 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 Bloc Québécois also recommended adopting an international policy that would prevent offshoring. In addition, programs should be established to modernize the clothing and textile industries, as well as to stimulate research to create jobs and new businesses in these industries.
In a context of globalization, everyone wants to go global, of course. Foreign businesses want to globalize by getting established here, and vice versa for our domestic businesses. We are in a race against time to take advantage of certain unfair and inequitable situations in other parts of the world where social, environmental and labour standards are too weak and, as a result, people as well as the environment are being exploited.
In this frantic race, we can see that there are countries where workers are not necessarily paid very much at all, which allows the kind of mass production against which, technically, we in industrialized countries can hardly compete because our labour standards are different. Basically, we are not exactly in the same ballpark.
Obviously, with respect to the clothing and apparel industry, people often do not talk in terms of globalization. Nevertheless, it has to be brought up, because that is the context in which this is taking place.Many other factors are contributing to the serious difficulties faced by the textile and apparel industry.
My hon. colleague mentioned earlier that the Canadian textile industry had been driven out of American market. He also mentioned that Harvey Penner had expressed the need for a plan B to restore our access to the American market. I was surprised to hear the expression “plan B” used, seeing that we are generally talking about a government with a great deal of experience with plan Bs, which, unfortunately, are not always the greatest. For instance, the plan put forward in December was indeed inadequate.
Therefore, it was in that context that, a moment ago, I put my question to the minister in the wake of the testimony given by members of the textile industry. Now, they pointed at the weakness of that program in terms of implementation. In addition, they also pointed at its weakness in terms of the amounts available to the industry. Fifty million dollars over five years, that is $10 million for the whole of Canada. Canadian or Quebec businesses may suffer from a serious lack of funds, given the fact that we must proceed rapidly.
In the context of globalization, innovation and invention are a must. Therefore, to make up for a labour force that is, from a practical point of view, poorly paid in other countries, we have to do better with respect to production techniques. On the other hand, we must innovate with regard to production techniques and products. Therefore, we must look for production niches, specialized products and markets, so that our existing techniques make up for the mass production of specialized products flooding world markets.
Witnesses from the apparel and textile industries said that the modernization program must be straightforward. The modernization programs must be straightforward so that they can be implemented as quickly as possible. People need time to diversify production.
They also mentioned the fact that the exchange rate was unfavourable to exports. Businesses have had less liquidity lately, and subsidy and aid programs have been insufficient.
The evidence is clear: for the past ten years, the government, although it put in place a few programs, has never understood the extent of the problem and still does not. Therefore, we urge it to update its aid package to make it really efficient.