Mr. Speaker, I am both pleased and saddened to take part in this debate because ultimately the bill that is now before us is a total abdication of Canadian sovereignty, a complete rejection of the rules of international law.
This government totally surrendered to the Americans. Then, in an attempt to justify their surrender, the Conservatives put a gun to the head of different Canadian firms by telling them they would receive no support.
Worse still, they have also been the accomplices of the banks because they wanted to finish the job. The only winners under this agreement are the banks who will all collect the $4 billion when the deal is done. The other winners, of course, are the American producers.
I notice in particular the support of the Bloc Québécois. Earlier, I heard the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain state that they had proposed such and such a measure, but they have given their unconditional support to the Conservative government while forgetting the workers and communities concerned. That is how they are propping up the government. They have decided to lie down in submission to save their positions rather than saving the communities and workers.
On the subject of older workers, they had a golden opportunity to say to this government, “We will support you provided that you introduce a program for older workers”. They could have held the government hostage. They decided to ask for nothing. Instead of finding solutions for older workers, they prefer to ask questions. The next day, after announcing their support for the government, they were pathetic. Having already sold their weapons cheaply, they were asking, “What are you going to do for older workers? What are you going to do for communities?”
What is there for workers in all this? Take a 58-year-old logger from Saint-Fulgence, who has lost his job; what is there for him? What is there for the person who has worked all his life in the forest industry and who had hoped this agreement would do something for his company? It will do nothing. He wondered if anyone thought about him, because all the great speeches were about the workers. There is nothing for him. He is being told, “Take the rest of your UI benefits, after that, you are on your own”.
There was an opportunity. In the Liberal program, which was defeated by the Bloc Québécois, there was $200 million over two years for making our forest industry more competitive and environmentally friendly. There was $40 million over two years for improving the general performance of our innovative national forest management system. There were millions of dollars for enhancing the competitiveness of our work force, for workplace skill development, and for assisting older workers in the forest industry who had been laid off. There was also $100 million for economic diversification.
Will this deal make any mills re-open? Has anyone heard any re-opening announcements since it was signed? All that I have heard are closing announcements. If there were so much confidence in this announcement and if the deal generated as much hope as the government representatives would have us believe, why is it that, day after day, there are closing announcements in towns all across the country?
It is sad for single-industry communities that have no hope of diversifying and that got zero, especially in the parts of rural Quebec represented by Bloc members, who did nothing to take care of them.
All that older workers got are speeches. I want to pay tribute in this regard to the NDP: when they were in the same kind of situation, with the same amount of leverage, they used it to protect the people in whom they believed. The Bloc did nothing. It claims to have leverage. It had the slogan “le vrai pouvoir”. But the only real power it used was sucking up to the government.
The feeling we have today in the House is one of immense sadness. Single-industry communities in which everything closed down will not take heart from this. All there is for older workers is the end of their employment insurance benefits and then the shame of not being able to have a decent retirement.
The House should put itself in the shoes of this 58-year-old man. What is he being offered in Saint-Fulgence? Here everyone lives comfortably and has hope for the future. But the House should put itself in the shoes of these people who worked in the forest. There is nothing for them in this deal. There is nothing, I say, except despair.
Therefore we have decided to vote against this agreement not just because of its content, but also because of what it does not contain. There is no related measure. Even the Speech from the Throne included somewhat of a paragraph to appease the Bloc a little, but in the end there is nothing concrete.
I maintain that a year from now, when we are on the other side of this House, we will take stock of this agreement and see how many jobs were created and which communities had to close and we will see that this agreement was bad for Canada, bad for companies, bad for workers and bad for the communities.
That is why we, the members of the Liberal party, have decided to vote against this agreement. We are convinced that after winning all its court challenges in front of international tribunals Canada was right. If the industry had received help from this government, it would not have needed to give in to the government's threats or its bankers' threats. That is what is so sad in all this. Not a single entrepreneur in Canada is happy with this agreement. It was shoved down their throat out of necessity. But let us ask the question. I come back to that because our mandate here is not just to protect big business. We are here to protect the average person. I am still waiting for someone to give me some good news on this agreement.
At the end of the day, this agreement is regrettable not only because of its content, which is a complete abdication, but also because of the lack of related measures. We know full well that this will not resolve anything for those already affected or for countless others who will be once the sector is restructured. The reality is that this sector will have to be restructured and several people will be sacrificed and will pay the price. It is not the major players or the banks who will pay, but the workers for whom there is nothing here.