Mr. Speaker, I am going to use the few minutes available to me to offer a brief summary of the situation as it relates to the softwood lumber agreement signed on July 1, between Ottawa and Washington.
As everyone knows, we have not been too eager to support Bill C-24. I come from a region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, that has been greatly affected by the softwood lumber crisis in recent years. That is in fact the reason why I wanted to talk about this issue again today.
Many of my colleagues from Quebec are going through a similar situation. In our respective regions, when the sawmill shuts down, the entire local economy is affected.
For example, the municipality of Ferland-et-Boilleau, in my riding, falls into the one-industry category, because 80% of local jobs depend on that economic activity. Obviously, the problems the forestry industry has been experiencing for several years have had major economic and social consequences for that municipality.
The situation is not rosy for the forestry sector. This agreement is only one step in the right direction. Once again, last weekend, the municipality of Normandin in Lac-Saint-Jean watched as Gémofor sought the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. I would point out that Gémofor employed nearly 150 men and women. The uncomfortable situation the company now finds itself in is not encouraging for the people in that community.
These are just a few examples. But a large number of sawmills, like P.H. Lemay and Péribonka, have been affected by the crisis in recent months.
At present, the government seems to be wanting to wait for the market to sort itself out while abandoning hundreds of businesses to their fate. This is a dangerous game because a number of rural regions could see their economies completely wiped out by this kind of decision.
This industry is indeed on its last gasp, at the end of its rope. It would be better to accept this bad agreement than to risk losing those businesses. Now that the agreement has been ratified, it is up to the government to put a set of measures in place as quickly as possible to assist the softwood lumber industry, which is facing serious difficulties at the very moment when it has been weakened by a lengthy trade dispute.
The industry needs immediate assistance to avoid these plants having to bear the costs of the federal government’s failure to support them.
I had the opportunity to speak on this subject in September and I would once again like to refer to some statistics that prove the new agreement is not enough to ensure the survival of the forestry sector. In early September, the Bowater sawmill at Saint-Félicien was forced to lay off 140 employees for an indefinite period.
The Coopérative forestière de Girardville announced that an investment of a million dollars would be needed to restart its operations.
Finally, the PFS sawmill in Petit-Saguenay is due to re-open its doors after initially shutting down for what was expected to be two weeks. Meanwhile, the sawmill has decided to discontinue its second work shift due to market difficulties.
These are just some examples of what is happening in many municipalities in Quebec and across Canada.
Although it is a statistic that I have already referred to in this House, I would like to mention it again. The softwood lumber crisis led to the loss of 3,000 jobs in my region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean—yes, 3,000 direct jobs —and the situation continues to get worse.
We are living through a crisis without precedent and the conditions for profitable operation are very difficult. A good number of forestry companies will have no other choice than to restructure or to realign their activities or their plants in order to remain competitive.
The root cause of the problem remains intact. The situation will continue to get worse if quick action is not taken. The problem is most acute in the resource regions of Quebec and it is difficult to close our eyes to this situation.
For several years, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for the introduction of a support program for older workers. The Bloc Québécois has intervened three times in the House of Commons to demand the implementation of a new POWA.
Unfortunately, the announcement of the Conservative program in October turned out to be worse than we feared because the assistance is not immediate and takes the form of a two-year pilot project that is under-funded and does not respond to the needs of older workers.
Indeed, a large part of the program consists solely in helping workers retrain. When an entire community suffers the hardship of a massive layoff, real action has to be taken. Regrettably, workers who are more than 55 years old and have difficulty finding another job cannot benefit from such a program.
That is why the Bloc Québécois believes that now that we have accepted a sellout agreement, it is incumbent on the government to put in place programs that will enable communities and companies that depend on the forests to diversify their economies.
The Bloc Québécois proposes to increase the budget that the federal government allocates for economic diversification of forestry regions. It also proposes that the funds be transferred to the Government of Quebec to avoid duplication of effort. Consequently, we are talking about a sum of $50 million over three years, strictly for Quebec. The federal government has the means to assist an economy that greatly needs support.
In closing, I would like to point out that Bill C-24 does not solve the structural problems in the market. In the coming months, measures must be introduced to avoid a collapse of the forestry sector. Moreover, I hope the minister will act on the resolution from the RCM of Lac-Saint-Jean-Est, in my region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. The resolution adopted in September calls on the federal government to provide greater support to the forest industry.