Mr. Speaker, I cannot muster any enthusiasm to talk about Bill C-24.
We have heard all sorts of amazing things from hon. members of all stripes in this House. The member for Outremont gave a fine performance. This is probably the first time he has risen with such outrage to defend workers in this House. This is the first time. He used to be a minister and did not rise to defend workers. No, that was not what the member for Outremont did. He was a minister, he made decisions.
That is the reality. The softwood lumber crisis has existed since May 22, 2002, when the Liberals were in power. The member for Outremont was elected in June 2004. What did the minister do? What did the member for Outremont do when he was minister? Absolutely nothing. He said earlier that they were in court and were winning battles. All the while, plants were closing.
Let us not ask ourselves questions.The Conservative Party did not close all the plants; the Liberal Party's decisions closed them. That is what happened. That is the reality.
Clearly, all that time, the Bloc Québécois defended the interests of workers in Quebec in this House. We suggested good ideas and solutions. We were the ones who proposed providing loan guarantees in this House. The Liberal government did not listen to us, and the Conservative government is not listening to us either.
We did not get guarantees. No, there is the program. The member for Outremont refers to the program. All that time, the Liberals were in power and did not implement their program. Did they think that people thought the Liberals were going to implement it to get elected? People did not trust the Liberals. That is the reality. And they were right.
Today, in this House, we are here to defend the interests of workers, who have asked the Bloc Québécois to vote for the agreement because the court case was dragging on too long. The reality is that the companies need money.
We have voted, we are voting and we will vote to defend the agreement, for the simple reason that the forest industry is in crisis and it needs the money, because the Liberal Party did not come to its assistance when it was time to do so. It did not create loan guarantees. The Conservative Party is repeating the same mistake of not helping the companies. It decided to sign a cut-rate agreement. Everyone says so, including the industry. This is not really the ideal agreement. The problem is that the companies have had it and, before they all close down, obviously we are going to keep the existing plants alive and we will hope to work together to try and reopen the ones that have closed.
That is the reality. This is why Quebeckers can rely on the Bloc Québécois to defend their interests. They cannot rely on the Liberals, who spend their time in court trying to defend and win and do what they have always done, that is, not give anything to the industry, telling it to keep on hoping it will win the final battle, the last case.
Cases have been won every year. We win one but it does not put anything more in the workers’ pockets. That is the harsh reality for the workers.
The 147 companies out of 151 who called the Bloc Québécois to ask it to vote in favour of this agreement, which is not a good one, did not do so lightheartedly. We say so quite openly. We have offered some solutions to improve it. The only problem is that the words “The End” are written on the wall and the Conservative Party has decided not to help the industry. So everyone says that the best thing that can happen is for the money paid by the companies to be refunded, even partially. This is the industry’s request, once again.
The only party in Quebec that listens to the workers, to Quebeckers, is the Bloc Québécois. We and the people are in symbiosis. The same cannot be said of the Liberal Party. Thus, we decided to support this agreement, for the sake of the people.
This is why we are here. We will go on battling in the interest of the people. Why? Because we will never be in power.
The hon. member for Outremont’s problem might be that he covets power at all cost. That is his problem and the problem of his friend, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. Power at all cost, and look what happened: in coveting power at all cost, they lost it, because power is loaned to us, it is not ours to keep. We will always be here, of course to defend the interests of Quebeckers.
We would like to say to the Conservative government that if it has any heart at all—which is a good question with the Conservatives—some excellent topics could be added at the industry’s request. We absolutely must resolve the issue of the older worker adjustment program. People between 50 and 55 years of age or more are losing their jobs in the forest industry and deserve our help until they can retire. That is what the Bloc Québécois wants. It is true that there was a tiny opening in the last budget, but we are obviously still waiting. Older workers are still waiting, especially in the forest and textile industries.
This week, the $2 billion cuts to all the programs—programs for women, aboriginals and the most disadvantaged in our society—showed once again that the Conservative members have no heart.
We want them to listen to what the industry is asking. We want an assistance program for older workers so that people who worked in the forest industry can live decently till they retire. That is what we want. We have already costed this program, and it would not be phenomenal amounts that would shatter the government’s expenditures. This has already been raised by the Bloc Québécois. This request is justified for the simple reason that the industry has officially requested it. The Bloc Québécois has always been a strong advocate of this request in the House.
We also want an economic diversification program for communities that are dependent on the forest. We are still waiting for the famous Marshall plan promised by the minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the hon. member for Jonquière—Alma, if my memory serves. He promised a genuine Marshall plan that would help launch resource-based regions, but all he produced this week was a mouse.
The Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec made a disappointing announcement of $85 million in recycled money. They took some money from certain programs and they recycled it to try to help the most economically disadvantaged communities. They gave $85 million while the industry leaves more than a billion dollars in countervailing duties in the United States. The Conservative government offers an $85 million program spread over four years. We hope it won’t be too little, too late. My colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine is quite right to mention this fact. Some $85 million over four years. That is sad. It is really sad that our communities are not better supported by a Conservative government that is completely insensitive to the problems facing the most disadvantaged communities in our regions.
The problem of regional development is a problem that affects everybody. It is not true that the large urban centres could survive with only head offices, which are often the head offices of companies that are developing resources in our regions. That is the reality. Governments are often out of touch. They think that the population is in the cities and that it is not worth the trouble to invest in our regions. On the contrary, if a great many people live in our cities, it is because we have prosperous regions that support the development of our natural resources, agricultural development and development of our forests. What would we do if we did not have lumber to build our houses? We take pride in building homes, but the lumber comes for our regions. We are glad to eat well; to have good bread and other good things on our tables, but that all comes from our regions. The Conservative Party should not forget that.
We want a real economic diversification program for communities that are forestry dependent. We are still waiting for the great program that the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the member for Jonquière—Alma, failed to deliver this week.
We also want a special status for the 128,000 owners of private woodlots in Quebec. To maintain the industry, we must have trees. We want a support program to revitalize the industry. If we support private woodlots, we will be supporting the resources that are the basis for the industry. This is an idea put forth by the Bloc Québécois. We expect the Conservative Party to take it seriously.
We want a special tax measure for the $4.3 billion in countervailing and anti-dumping duties. We must not forget that the companies will receive less money than they paid. They will receive $4 billion of the $5 billion; that is 81% of the total. Moreover, because of the increased value of the Canada dollar since 2002, they are incurring a loss. In fact, they will only receive 65% of the 81% that they paid. We are asking for a refundable tax credit so that they can recover those amounts. That is the way Canada can deal with this matter.
Once again, Quebeckers can be proud that the Bloc Québécois is defending their interests. It is only with reluctance that we support Bill C-24 and the softwood lumber agreement. We do so in the interest of our fellow citizens, of workers in the forest industry who have asked us to support the bill.
Because, obviously, we are the only party that is really listening to them.