Mr. Speaker, I will split my time with the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord.
I am pleased to take part in the debate on the Speech from the Throne. Obviously, this speech, delivered on Tuesday, does not meet the five conditions set by the Bloc Québécois which—and I am glad to point this out—reflect the values and interests of Quebeckers. This is why we will not support this throne speech.
I am of course looking at the throne speech from my perspective as our party's critic on natural resources. It goes without saying that I was disappointed to see that it did not include any new initiative. I did not see anything related to natural resources, renewable energy, or even to the debate that we are asking for on nuclear energy and radioactive waste management.
In fact, if we take a close look at the throne speech, we realize that it is old news. In the last budget, tabled in March 2007, the government had already announced the creation of a major natural resource projects management office. On October 1, the Department of Natural Resources announced on its Internet site the opening of the office. Then, on October 16, the Speech from the Throne announced the establishment of a natural resource management office. The government sure likes to repeat itself.
I would like to explain what this office is all about. I was particularly interested because of my role as critic. Every year, $20 million of taxpayers' money will be spent on running and implementing this major projects management office for natural resources. Those watching at home will be interested to know a bit about what this office will be doing. I will quote a text from the Natural Resources Canada website:
The overall objective of this investment [by the government] is to improve the competitiveness of Canada's resource industries while providing the capacity needed to uphold Canada's world-class environmental standards.
No one is against virtue. Obviously, the Bloc Québécois wants to take steps to eliminate red tape and make things easier. That being said, we must remain vigilant. We would not want this office to end up muzzling citizen groups, making it easier to bypass environmental standards and requirements or watering down environmental criteria.
Some people may think that I am overly concerned or doubtful about this office. It is because I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and still am. On December 7, 2006, a representative from the nuclear power sector came to explain that his sector was experiencing development difficulties because it has to comply with many regulations and deadlines to obtain licences. I would like to quote Mr. Wayne Henuset, from the Energy Alberta Corporation, would spoke to the members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday, December 7, 2006. He said:
The nuclear power commission has made the licensing for this very complicated, so we would like to get the licensing a little more streamlined. Then it wouldn't take three or four years to get a licence to build a nuclear plant.
We need more clarity on the regulations. That would be the number one issue.
We can see the link between this request by the Energy Alberta Corporation and the request it submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to conduct a study on setting up a nuclear generating station in the oil fields of Alberta. The government was nonetheless quick to respond to the demands of a major industry that uses natural resources. It may have been a little quicker than it would be in responding to requests from workers, women or minorities in Quebec and Canada.
Allow me to be concerned. We are not against having a more effective and more efficient machinery of government. It is a question of being vigilant and ensuring that this office, whose annual budget is indeed $20 million and ensures the coordination of five departments, can do the work fairly by respecting the rules and requirements of the provinces and Canada.
The Speech from the Throne mentions supply management. In the speech the government reiterates its support for supply management. That is good because it is giving it a chance. Nonetheless, this is not the first time the Government of Canada has given its support to supply management and that did not prevent the former minister of agriculture from making statements that somewhat contradicted the government's positions. Allow me to quote Canada's former minister of agriculture of on supply management. It is not an old excerpt from the archives of Parliament; he said this on May 27, 2007.
He said, “We have the best negotiator in the world in Steve Verheul, (other countries) are talking about changes, and (producers under supply management) don't even want us to be in the room talking about changes. It is the stupidest tactic I can think of. So instead of Steve being in there and going to bat for them, he sits outside the room because all he can say is that we refuse to have any changes because our supply managed sectors can't live with any changes”. I could also quote the Minister of International Trade on the stubborn sectors that held up the Doha round of negotiations.
I am concerned and vigilant, and one can see why. So, I want to tell the new Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food that, as a member representing a riding that is 80% agricultural, I will pay very close attention to what he says, in order to adequately protect producers in my constituency, because they are adamant that the supply management system must be maintained.
There are other aspects of the throne speech that I find disappointing. For example, I did not find anything on the program for older worker adjustment. I want to talk about it again today, because the government really does not seem to understand the need for such a program.
Since 2004, in my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, 2,500 jobs have disappeared, primarily in the textile manufacturing sector, including at the Huntingdon Mills and at the Cleyn & Tinker mill. Recently, 1,000 jobs were eliminated at the Goodyear plant, and another 150 at the Gildan plant. Finally, just recently, the Abattoirs Billette had to shut down their operations. This means a loss of over 200 jobs in the riding.
What is the Bloc asking for? It may be worth repeating, because the government does not seem to get it.
The Bloc does not want a program promoting the fact that older workers are now useless and cannot make other employers benefit from their qualifications and work experience. The Bloc wants a program that is simply designed for workers who have tried everything.
I suspect that the minister has not talked to older workers in a long time. Older workers in my riding have clearly said that, despite all their training and reclassification efforts, it is very difficult to retrain at age 58 or 59, particularly in a small town such as Huntingdon, where public transit is non-existent. It is indeed difficult for people who do not have a car to travel long distances and to relocate. What is $75 million for people who devoted their lives to the economy of Quebec and Canada? The Bloc sincerely believes that, this time, the Conservative government had the means to give older workers, in the throne speech, what they need to retire with dignity.
In conclusion, the Conservative government must now face a confidence vote. It must now be accountable to the people of Canada.