Mr. Speaker, I shall share my time with my hon. colleague from Chambly—Borduas, whom I thank.
I am pleased to rise in this debate on the budget brought down by the new government.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased with a number of measures it contains, but not entirely pleased with the budget speech on the whole.
We have to look back at the situation we were facing at the time of the last election. There had been a Liberal government in office for 13 years. In the area of agriculture, following the mad cow crisis and acts of unfair competition by the Americans, among other things, the Bloc Québécois had been calling for support for the farm industry in Canada and Quebec. The Liberals responded to some extent, at the eleventh hour, despite years of requests from farm producers. The Liberals finally agreed to invest a small amount to support agriculture across the country. However, they imposed a nation-wide policy framework with which producers in Quebec and Ontario were not pleased at all.
Agriculture in Quebec, as in Ontario, is extremely different from agriculture in the Western provinces. A one size fits all strategic framework therefore cannot be imposed on Canadian agriculture. This seems to us to be completely bizarre and foolish. There are not a lot of dairy producers in Western Canada; dairy farming is concentrated mainly in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. Large amounts of money had to be invested; $1.5 million was invested. This is a large sum. The commitment made must now be honoured: the strategic framework must be revised and a new one proposed that will be appropriate to agriculture in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick.
Earlier, my colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's spoke about fishing. Yes, the Bloc Québécois has for years been calling for the capital gains made by a fisher who wants to transfer his or her business to another family member—a son or daughter—to be exempted. Compared to what was done in farming, this was a great injustice.
For farming, there is a capital gains exemption when a family member wants to transfer the business. It must be understood that a fishing business is like a farming business. Often, it is the retirement plan for the person who is wanting to get out of the business. It is what allows that person to retire and not burden the son or daughter who takes over the fishing business with too much debt. While it provides some assistance, it is simply insufficient for fishing.
In recent years, management in the fishing industry has been an absolute disaster, and I am not talking about management of the resource by the federal government only in the last 13 years, but ever since the federal government has been responsible for managing the resource. This disastrous management has virtually wiped out the resource, particularly in the case of groundfish.
At present, the fishing industry is facing a tragic situation as a result of falling prices. The shrimp fishery is not necessarily very profitable. This year there was a large drop in crab prices. There is a problem with international negotiations and a problem with how our industry is promoted. Unlike what is done in the farming industry, there is virtually no promotion of our industry to get Canadians and Quebeckers to consume more local products. At the international level, there is unfair international competition—I am thinking, for example, of the imposition of quotas by the European Economic Community. Those quotas are causing a great deal of harm, particularly in the shrimp fishery. The federal government will have to make diplomatic efforts to solve this problem.
Knowing my colleague from Chambly—Borduas, I am sure he will speak about employment insurance. I want to address that subject as well.
In my region, as in a majority of rural regions in Quebec and a majority of the so-called remote regions of Canada, there has been a major crisis in recent years. There was also a lack of political will on the part of the former government.
Let us talk about the lumber crisis. For years, we asked for support to be given to our companies so that they could cope with what I would call a total injustice, which was imposed on us by the U.S government and producers. They placed duties on it even though we regularly won our case before the courts. This crisis lasted for 25 years, do not forget.
I have some doubts concerning the signing of the agreement proposed to us. First, this agreement is far from perfect. Furthermore, I am not convinced that the Americans will respect it for seven or nine years. They did not respect the earlier agreements, so they will find a way of not respecting this one either.
The federal government should therefore be extremely vigilant concerning the lumber agreement. Moreover, this agreement should be improved. It is totally unfair to impose on us a quota of 32% of the market, as is the case at present. In the context of free trade, the agreement submitted to us does not allow free trade. This agreement should definitely be amended over the years.
I got a bit off track; I was talking about employment insurance. I wanted to talk about the situation in the regions. We have had to deal with the softwood lumber crisis, the mad cow crisis, the completely unfair competition in the farming sector, particularly from the U.S., and a major crisis caused by globalization. The previous government had the means to intervene, as do the Americans, who do not hesitate to protect themselves. It did not, however, intervene at all in the textile and clothing sectors, among others, and in the so-called softer sectors in Canada. This has caused, in the past year, the loss of 120,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector, including 36,000 in Quebec.
Unfortunately, I did not see anything in the budget in this connection. Nor have I noted the current government’s intention to react in accordance with the standards of international trade. Under the standards of the World Trade Organization, we are perfectly entitled to take action when a situation arises like the one that we have just been through in the past 12 months.
Furthermore, the workers in these sectors have been employed by the same company for 20 or 30 years; now they are 50, 55 or 60 years old. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas will certainly talk about it, since it is one of his pet projects. These people do not necessarily have sufficient training to enable them to be placed elsewhere or reclassified. So they have to be helped, at least so that they can live decently until they reach retirement age.
Actually, the government has expressed its intention to take action in this area. We will have to see, concretely, how this will unfold in the coming months. We in the Bloc Québécois are committed to this. For years we have been asking for the assistance program for older workers to be re-established and we will go on demanding it.
I will also continue to demand that an independent employment insurance fund be established. In my region, fewer than 40% currently have access to employment insurance. These include fishers and forest workers. These people have seasonal jobs. They cannot take their fishing boats out when there is two feet of ice on the St. Lawrence River. They have to rely on employment insurance. At present, as a result of the slash and burn approach taken by the former Liberal government since 1994, they find themselves without an income for five, six, eight or ten weeks in the spring. It may not be easy for them to get back to work either. Indeed, in order to return to work, labourers, for example, might have to invest in buying the proper attire to wear. Some of them just cannot afford it. It is as simple as that. So, some families have a hard time for many weeks in the spring.
We therefore have to establish an EI fund that will meet the needs of those workers who find themselves unemployed, one that will be managed by the workers and their employers, that is, those who pay into that fund.
The government has to stop dipping into the employment insurance fund. That is not its money.