): Mr. Speaker, to begin, I congratulate my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, for his excellent speech on the importance to future generations of abiding by the Kyoto Protocol. In Quebec, the Kyoto Protocol is important.
I also thank my fellow citizens of Berthier—Maskinongé for placing their trust in me for a second time, in the recent election campaign. I can assure them that they will not be disappointed in their choice and that I will work hard to represent their interests.
As always, the Bloc Québécois team will never waver in its efforts to get the federal government to respond to the concerns of Quebeckers. That is the mandate we have been given and that is the challenge we intend to meet.
Quebec's interests will be what guides our party at all times. But we believe that only sovereignty will genuinely enable Quebec to freely make the decisions that meet its needs and aspirations.
The Speech from the Throne gives a general picture of the government’s vision of the state of Canada and gives an indication of its legislative agenda. However, as a number of my colleagues have said, the Speech from the Throne presented by the Conservative government is a very general statement, with no precise direction and no timetable, and provides few details as to its priorities, particularly those of special concern to Quebec.
Last December, in the middle of the election campaign, in his speech in the national capital of Quebec, the leader of the Conservative Party was much more specific, and created very high expectations, by stating that he was going to work to eliminate the fiscal imbalance.
The throne speech does indeed—although very briefly—address the question of the fiscal imbalance, but it does not provide details as to the government’s intentions. I would even say that it is disquieting to see that the Conservative government is offering no details about timetables for resolving this important issue for Quebec.
The throne speech would in fact have been an excellent opportunity for the government to establish timetables. It is important to recall that the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa, Quebec and the provinces represents a dysfunction in fiscal federalism that cannot be corrected, to lasting effect, by piecemeal agreements, or solely by increasing federal cash transfers.
If the federal government wants to eliminate the fiscal imbalance in a permanent and satisfactory way, it will have to increase transfers for post-secondary education, transfer tax revenues to the provinces and give Quebec the right to withdraw, with full compensation and without conditions, from a federal program that falls within its areas of jurisdiction.
During his speech in Quebec’s national capital, the Conservative leader also broached the matter of Quebec’s role in the international community, notably in UNESCO. The Conservative leader then stated that Quebec could participate in UNESCO, as it does in the summit of la Francophonie. This statement may be found, moreover, in the Conservative platform.
The Speech from the Throne narrows the scope of these promises by affirming that now it is a matter of granting the Government of Quebec a role within UNESCO, while specifying that Canada must speak with one voice in the international community. That includes UNESCO. At the Francophonie Summit, Quebec speaks for itself and has a vote on certain matters. The government now seems to prefer the previous government’s approach instead.
I would now like to talk about a file that concerns me a great deal, namely job losses in the manufacturing sector. Unfortunately, any issues affecting the future of the manufacturing sector were totally ignored in the Conservative government’s Speech from the Throne.
For the past few years, however, our manufacturing sector has been faced with new challenges, particularly the keen competition from the emerging countries, including China and India, the rise of the Canadian dollar on the international market and the abolition of quotas in the clothing and textile sectors.
These changes have caused major negative repercussions. In Quebec, in 2005 alone, over 33,000 jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector. In Canada, 115,000 jobs were lost during the same period.
In Quebec, private investments in the manufacturing sector increased by only 0.8% in 2005, compared to 10.2% in Ontario. The federal government must therefore increase its investments in its skills development programs for workers, and create innovation and productivity assistance tools better suited to Quebec’s needs.
The hon. member from Joliette and I recently met with representatives of the Quebec manufacturing association. They stated that the job losses we have experienced may well grow worse in the coming months and years if nothing is done. So something needs to be done soon.
In the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, which I have the honour of representing, one major economic sector is trying to deal with Asian competition, and that is the furniture industry. We know that China has experienced tremendous economic growth, which does not appear to be slowing down.
Just between 2000 and 2004, Quebec imports of furniture from China jumped by 389.7%, for an annual increase of nearly 50%. In 2004, 42% of Quebec’s imported furniture came from China, compared to 16% in 2000.
That is huge and above all extremely fast. It is hard, in such a short space of time, to adjust to the effects of Chinese competition. These repercussions, moreover, have so far caused the loss of 2,000 jobs and the disappearance of some 15 businesses in Quebec. The furniture industry accounts for more than 35,000 jobs, most of them in Quebec, including close to 70 companies that hire some 2,300 people in the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé alone.
The furniture industry has already done a lot to improve its productivity and the quality of its products. It had to adapt to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now that the challenge posed by NAFTA has been met, it finds itself faced with new Asian competition.
The way in which furniture manufacturers meet this new challenge will determine the future of furniture manufacturing in Quebec and Canada. Innovation and improved productivity will be essential in order for them to succeed. New investments will therefore be necessary.
That is why the Bloc Québécois has been asking the federal government to set up a program to support modernization and adjustment, not to forget the development of a marketing assistance strategy for promoting our products abroad. The Liberal government, however, did nothing in this regard.
We have recently made some specific proposals, like the one asking that the parliamentary committees on industry, foreign affairs and international trade should meet in order to work together on some long-term approaches for dealing with the problem.
I will finish by underlining two major topics that were neglected in this Speech from the Throne, that is employment insurance and agriculture. In the situation just described, it will be very important to improve the employment insurance program and establish POWA.
Although I am pleased that the amendment to the amendment that we introduced requesting the establishment of an income support program for workers, a POWA, was adopted unanimously, there is reason for concern that there was absolutely no mention in the throne speech of improvements to employment insurance.
We must ensure that comprehensive improvements, including POWA, are adopted as soon as possible. It will also be very important to finally create an independent fund, especially when we consider that the employment insurance account has already accumulated a $1.7 billion surplus after 10 months in the last financial year. The Conservative Party promised to set up an independent fund; with the support of the Bloc Québécois, nothing is preventing it from acting quickly.
Insofar as agriculture is concerned, I would like to remind everyone that the Conservative government should keep its promises by doing what is necessary to mitigate the crisis in farm incomes. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food acknowledged that the farm income stabilization program was inadequate. Since this is the case, we expect quick assistance for farmers, especially when the federal government itself acknowledges that it has a $10 billion surplus.
Finally, it is important to state that we will not accept any compromises in the area of supply management at the WTO negotiations.
I could mention other matters as well that were passed over or forgotten in this speech, such as social housing or the Kyoto protocol. The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie just spoke about them. We will have an opportunity, though, to discuss these matters over the next few weeks. We are going to do a thorough analysis of the new government’s proposals and we will act in accordance with what has always been our guiding principle: the best interests of Quebec.