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House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

It is with pleasure that I rise to speak to this extremely important motion regarding an extremely important issue. The manufacturing and forestry sectors are facing immense challenges today. The rapid ascension of the Canadian dollar or perhaps the depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the rapidity of its decline have contributed to that, but there are also long term competitiveness issues and productivity issues that are extremely important for the entire industrial sector.

I will focus part of my comments on the unique challenges of the maritime lumber industry in my region of the country. Clearly, there are challenges in my region where we have a market flooded with cheap lumber that is coming from British Columbia, which is partly the result of the clear-cutting that is occurring in British Columbia as a result of the mountain pine beetle. What was originally a natural disaster has become an economic disaster for other parts of the country. We have the decline of the U.S. housing market and its impact on Canadian lumber exports, and of course, there is the rising dollar and energy prices. Our production costs are higher and the competitiveness of our product is declining.

Some producers in my riding have said that the price they can get for their finished product in some cases is actually cheaper than what it costs for them to buy logs for their raw material. In fact, the U.S. lumber producers in Maine are now exporting lumber into Atlantic Canada.

Of 92 mills operating in the three maritime provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, 22 have produced no lumber since January 2007, and 18 more have announced permanent, indefinite or temporary shutdowns. Only 16 mills are operating near capacity and they are mostly smaller producers for local markets. The rest are cutting production. To date, 1,249 employees have been laid off in the maritime lumber industry. This information is updated on an ongoing basis and in fact, there have been more shutdowns since last month. If this trend continues, by December 31, 2008 the industry will be operating at 50% of 2006 production.

It is cold comfort to the industry to have the government say that somehow the U.S. softwood lumber agreement that the government signed in its early days is a panacea to all the challenges faced by the Canadian lumber industry. The lumber agreement with the U.S. administration at that time was more about getting photo ops for the Conservative government than it was about getting real long term results for Canadian lumber interests.

It is really important to recognize the importance of supporting communities affected by the decline in the lumber industry. The first thing that ought to be done is the re-establishment of the economic diversification program for forestry regions. The Liberal government's forestry strategy in 2005 committed $1.5 billion to support the industry, including money for companies to invest in research and development, and a five year national forest community adjustment fund designed to help diversify economies for forestry dependent communities in decline.

Those programs were cut and slashed by the Conservative laissez-faire government that cared more about rigid ideology than in helping Canadian communities. It is the same government that has cut labour market agreements with many Canadian provinces. Those labour market agreements were there to help workers, whether in the forestry sector or in the manufacturing sector, who found themselves in industries in decline and in transition. They were benefiting from those labour market agreements but the government cut them at a critical time.

The challenges faced by the lumber industry in the maritimes are different from other parts of the country because the industry has a different ownership makeup in terms of forest lands and woodlands. It is really important that members of Parliament realize that while some of the conditions in the maritimes are different, the challenges being faced by the maritime lumber industry are severe. The Conservative government is ignoring the maritime lumber industry and has failed to defend its interests just as severely as it has failed to defend the interests of the forestry industry in Quebec and across the country.

On the manufacturing sector side, it is clear that the government's accelerated capital cost allowance, which applies over a two year period, needs to be applied over a five year period. The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association has called for that. It has said that companies do not make long term production enhancement equipment purchase decisions overnight. For an accelerated capital cost allowance to actually make a difference it needs to be over a five year period not over a two year period. We have called on the government repeatedly to implement the accelerated capital cost allowance over a five year period which would help provide a stronger partnership with Canadian manufacturers to help them invest in the productivity enhancement they need.

Furthermore, in terms of research and development and commercialization activities that can help Canadian manufacturers compete and succeed globally in a hyper-competitive environment, the government ought to reform its SR and ED program. This program has helped Canadian companies and manufacturers involved in industries as diverse as biotech to clean tech and manufacturers that are themselves making these kinds of investments.

One change that could be made to broaden and strengthen the impact of the SR and ED program would be to increase the annual R and D expenditure limit, which was established initially in 1985 pre-NAFTA, from its current level of $2 million to $10 million and adjust the taxable capital threshold from $10 million to $50 million. That would make a huge difference for a lot of Canadian manufacturing companies and other firms involved in research and development and commercialization.

Another change would be the removal of the current CCPC restriction on the SR and ED program for refundable credits while maintaining eligibility requirements. This would make a difference in terms of taxable income and taxable capital thresholds.

Infrastructure investment, particularly transportation infrastructure, is critically important. The Liberal government that I was part of had made a significant investment in the Pacific Gateway. The Conservative government has continued with that investment but has actually reduced the level of the investment that our government had initially made. The Pacific Gateway is part of it.

With respect to the Atlantic Gateway, the government recently announced some sort of exchange of letters or memorandums of understanding, but that is not good enough. The government should be moving more quickly to establish and strengthen trade routes along both the eastern seaboard and Atlantic Canada.

The government needs to earmark more resources for Ontario's aging infrastructure, particularly the Windsor-Detroit crossing, and it needs to make this crossing a higher priority. I read an article in today's Toronto Star entitled, “Chrysler CEO pleads case for new Windsor crossing”. All stakeholders need to be engaged in this. We need to see the government take action and commit the resources required.

According to the Canadian-American Business Council, insufficient infrastructure, coupled with onerous paperwork, are creating a competitive disadvantage for businesses on both sides of the border. Today, with the importance of rapid transportation of parts and materials in manufacturing, it is critically important that the Canadian and U.S. borders work efficiently and effectively. The government needs to make those kinds of investments, which would be far more effective investments that we could actually use, than cutting the GST, which does not benefit productivity, does not enhance manufacturing competitiveness and does not help create jobs for Canadian workers.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has laid out some interesting points of perspective on this important motion. It is an extremely important issue that is facing Canada today and a very volatile situation.

I know the member has a banking background. I wonder if he could inform the House about the threats that the manufacturing and forestry sector are facing and maybe re-emphasize the areas in which responsible government would respond to that challenge.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned some of my professional background but he is in fact an accountant. There are very few CAs on the floor of the House of Commons, so we benefit from his insight on some of these issues as well.

We will be hearing in a moment from the member for Markham—Unionville who can speak to some of the issues around tax reform and the importance of ensuring we have a more competitive tax system for Canadian manufacturers and the entire industrial sector in order to compete and succeed globally.

One of the things in which economists across Canada have been unanimous is the condemnation of the government's decision to cut a consumption tax and not to reduce in a broad based way other types of taxes, including personal income tax.

It is critically important that we not only build a more competitive business tax environment and personal tax environment, but that we also reduce taxes on capital, on investment and on the kinds of technology required to strengthen competitiveness. That is the kind of effort that the government ought to be pursuing, instead of cutting the GST. Cutting consumption taxes is bad public policy, bad social policy and bad economic policy.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for telling us about the difficulties the forestry crisis is causing in the Maritimes. We see that the problems are identical and that we agree on one thing: the need for economic diversification of forestry regions. This was a program that was abolished by the Conservatives in 2006.

I would like the hon. member to elaborate and say a few words about what the government would be like if laissez faire were not its recurring theme. We know this government likes to buy things. Why does it not promote Canadian companies in its procurement contracts?

When it received unexpected aerospace contracts to the tune of $17 billion, which is unheard of in Canada, why did this government fail to use strictly Canadian companies? Why did it not insist on spinoffs for Quebec, where aerospace represents 60% of the Canadian industry in that field? Is this not another example of leaving our companies in the lurch when they are trying to cope with the vagaries of the rising dollar? Could we have some perspective?

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question very much. It is clear that we need to invest in restoring programs in order to help our workers, but there are also issues of supply in sectors such as defence and aerospace. It is very important that our supply system be used to strengthen our competitiveness in these sectors. It is clear that other countries continue to use their supply systems to do so, and we should do the same here.

This was always the practice of all the previous Liberal governments and the Progressive Conservative governments. There was a history of using supply to strengthen our competitiveness, but that is not the case with the current Conservative government.

It is also important for our tax system to be reformed to increase our productivity in order to attract the necessary investors. That will also strengthen our competitiveness.

As former minister of public works, I very much appreciate the emphasis on the issue of supply. I fear we are losing a lot of ground with the recent laissez faire approach of this Conservative government.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the general point is that the government has its head in the sand when it comes to the implications of this very high dollar for jobs in tourism, jobs in manufacturing and jobs in forestry. We have had lay offs recently. A couple of weeks ago, 1,100 jobs were lost at Chrysler. I think it was last week that 800 jobs were lost in forestry. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.

If the currency is maintained at, near or above parity in a sustained fashion there will be many hundreds of thousands of lay offs coming down the road.

The government is constrained and blinkered by its ideology on this matter. It sees no role for government in dealing with this impending crisis resulting from the dollar at over parity.

Perhaps the Prime Minister is focused on Calgary where everything is going well because it is the oil industry that is driving the high dollar. However, in Ontario, in Quebec and across the country, jobs in the hundreds of thousands are threatened by the high dollar. The government is not just doing nothing for ideological reasons, it is doing worse than nothing. It is wounding these key industries when they are already wounded.

The Bloc motion says that we should reinstate a forest region economic diversification program modelled on the one the Conservative government eliminated. This is another way of saying that it wants the same program as the one that the Liberal government had introduced and that the Conservative government has abolished.

I will say a few words later about this program, which the Bloc wants reinstated and which the NDP I am sure would like as well had it not decided to bring down the government in 2006. The Conservatives have damaged the forest industry by destroying this program.

The Conservatives have damaged the auto industry with the silly, ridiculous feebate program, which hurts our industry and jobs. They have damaged it through the Korea free trade deal, which in its present form does nothing on non-tariff barriers and further hurts the domestic industry. They have not invested a penny in Canada's auto sector whereas the former Liberal government invested some $300 million.

The Conservatives further wounded the forestry sector. They have further wounded the auto sector. They further wounded the tourist industry.

The tourist industry is in terrible shape because Americans no longer come here because of the high dollar. What did the Conservatives do? They took away the visitor GST rebate just at the moment when the industry needed it.

As a consequence of the total destruction of Canada-China relations, China has not granted approved destination status to Canada. China has granted that to 80 other countries, so it is hardly a selective measure. However, the government has destroyed the China relationship to the point where we are denied this and therefore have been denied hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists who would otherwise come to Canada.

It is not just that the Conservatives have done nothing. They looked at these key industries when they were down and inflicted further wounds on them, in forestry, in the auto sector and in tourism. They are beyond the pale, they have done nothing and have proposed nothing to help these industries.

The Conservatives have refused, for example, to implement the five year period, which everybody else is asking for, including the industry committee, for the accelerated capital cost allowance program in manufacturing and processing. I believe there were 22 recommendations in the industry committee report, which were unanimous from all parties. It is an excellent report and Conservatives have implemented only a small part of one of the recommendations and not the remaining 21.

Let me say a few words about the Liberal program for the forestry industry, which the Bloc indirectly praised in its motion. I will tell members what it would have done. Then I will ask the members of the Bloc and the NDP whether they would not have liked this program.

The consequence of the NDP bringing down the government in 2006 was not only that we did not get the child care program, not only we did not get the Kelowna agreement for aboriginal people, but also we did not get the $1.3 billion program that would have provided terrific assistance to the forestry program, which is in desperate need of it as we speak. Let us consider the elements.

First, we had $150 million to support workers and communities. Is this not exactly what the Bloc is asking now?

What about the $150 million to support workers and communities? Would the NDP not like that? That is what we had until the government scrapped it, and we should not hold our breath for the government to re-establish such a program.

Second, there is the $215 million innovative processing technology. Is this not what needs the forest industry in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada?

Does the NDP not like the idea of $215 million for a transformative technology program that would provide material assistance to the forest industry and to all the workers in the forest industry, who are at risk of being laid off? This would provide hope for communities, hope for the industry, hope for the employees, hope that is being dashed by the government's extreme laissez-faire policy, aided and abetted by the NDP.

Third, for forest innovation and value added products, the total is $90 million.

Are growing wood markets not important? Do we not need new markets for our wood? China was one example. Good luck in the Chinese market with the current government.

The former Liberal government had committed $66 million for growing wood markets, $10 million for raising skill levels and $50 million for support for bioenergy, precisely all the things that are needed by the forest industry today.

All these things that the Bloc Québécois is now asking for were there, but they were cancelled by the behaviour of the Bloc and the NDP in 2006.

In conclusion, I will simply make the basic point that if the dollar stays where it is, we have an emerging jobs crisis, and the layoffs we have seen recently are merely the tip of the iceberg. These layoffs are not just statistics; these are family members and friends of Canadians across the country.

The government, through its extraordinarily laissez-faire approach, has not only done nothing to address this problem, it has wounded these key industries at their moment of extreme weakness. I credit the NDP and the Bloc, in part, with the crisis facing the forest industry. By bringing down the previous Liberal government, they caused the cancellation of some $1.3 billion that would otherwise be flowing to the forest industry today and supporting the communities, the people and the jobs that are so dependent on forestry.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Comuzzi Conservative Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to my friend from Markham. He and I have had this debate several times and this gives us an opportunity.

First, I have two simple questions. One is with regard to the capital cost allowance.

As an old-time banker, my friend from Markham realizes that in order to take advantage of the capital cost allowance in any business venture, there have to be profits. In order to have profits, there has to be a good business climate, and that seems to have been lacking in the forestry business for the last several years.

The Liberal government started the negotiations with Korea I think in 2005, so maybe he would like to respond to that. We just concluded it.

With regard to the Liberal program in forestry, his numbers are wrong. He stated it was $1.3 billion. It was really $1.4 billion, of which $800 million would go to aid the softwood lumber industries across the country.

As we know, there were $5 billion on deposit in the United States. As a former banker, my colleague realizes that banks like to see a flow of money through the till in order to pay off obligations. Most of these companies were being wiped out because of lack of cashflow because they were paying the softwood lumber duty.

Out of that $1.4 billion, $800 million were to go immediately to the softwood lumber industries in the whole country, which would have helped them carry on with their businesses. The other $600 million were to go to the economic development agencies, ACOA, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, which we are debating today, FedNor and Western Economic Diversification. That would have been primarily to help the industries in those particular sections under debate today.

The Liberals did not do it. They had the opportunity to pass it. Would my friend answer why it was not passed? That forced this government to come in with the legislation the Minister of International Trade brought in as soon as the Conservatives formed the government.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, what a twisted version of reality presented by my former Liberal colleague. I thank him however for correcting me that this fine Liberal program was not $1.3 billion, as I said, but it was indeed $1.4 billion. I take that as a friendly correction.

What the member neglects is that there was an election, which we lost. As a result, the Conservatives cancelled—

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP is clapping for the Conservative victory. That is par for the course.

However, as a consequence of losing the election, the Conservative laissez-faire doctrinaire government cancelled all our $581 million. It cancelled programs to support workers in communities. It cancelled the transformative technology program, forestry innovation and value-added products, growing wood markets, et cetera. That is what the government did.

Had we won the election, we would have implemented it. We lost the election. That is why the forestry industry lost $581 million which otherwise today would be flowing to the communities, flowing to the workers and sustaining jobs in the forestry industry.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I remind the member across that it was not the NDP that defeated the Liberals in the last federal election; it was the people of Canada. When they looked at the terrible way they had conducted themselves while in government, they decided the Liberals were no longer worthy to lead the country, so now they are in the opposition benches.

I support the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North in his contention that there were a lot of things the Liberals said they would do before that election, which was not in any way placed in a position where the new government could come in and could walk away from it and not be committed to having to spend that money.

All we have to do is to look at the budget of 2005. The NDP convinced the Liberals at that time not to give away $5 billion in corporate tax breaks, but to spend it on programs for communities and for people. The bill was passed and put into law. Therefore, that money is still rolling out and being spent.

The money the member talks about, particularly the $1.4 billion for the forest industry, was never put in the form of a commitment by Treasury Board, so the government could then not have to delivery on that—

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie, but the clock has run out. I will allow a few moments to the hon. member for Markham—Unionville to respond.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, maybe I have to explain this point slowly so the NDP will understand.

It is true that the people of Canada determined the outcome of the election of 2006. It was the NDP that induced that election by bringing the Liberal government down. As a consequence of that behaviour, the NDP forfeited for all Canadians the aboriginal assistance of $5 billion, the forestry program of $1.3 billion and the child care program of $5 billion. It was the NDP that caused those programs to be lost to Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

I rise in support of this important motion on the manufacturing sector and the impact of the high Canadian dollar on this sector. What we have today is a full-fledged crisis in the manufacturing sector in this country. Over the past 10 years, we have seen Canada go from a $12 billion trade surplus in manufacturing to a $16 billion trade deficit. We have seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Hundreds more are lost each day.

Our manufacturing in Canada as a share of our overall economy has fallen by about 25% in the last 10 years, yet a large sector of our economy has depended on manufacturing, with its one in eight jobs, work for more than 2.4 million Canadians overall. This is a key sector of the economy.

Let us look at our country's history. Canadians were seen as hewers of wood and drawers of water. It was through enormous effort and collective will as a country that we decided we could do more, that yes, we were blessed with abundant natural resources, which were a key part of our economy, but that it was in the interests of all Canadians for us to add value to those natural resources, to add value so that not only would we take fish from the sea, but we would process those fish. We would not simply extract minerals out of the earth; we would process those minerals. Not only would we have an abundant agricultural sector, but we would process food for our own domestic use and export abroad.

Most importantly, we would add value in the manufacturing sector and we would become key suppliers to the world of certain key products. As we have seen, in many sectors of the economy Canada has excelled. It did not happen by accident. It was a project of our parents and grandparents to create a vibrant manufacturing sector in this country.

What we are seeing of late, through a variety of factors, and I will talk about that in a minute, is the erosion of this manufacturing sector. I ask my colleagues in the House how we are going to have a healthy economy and the tax base to support our social programs, our infrastructure and all that we value in this country if we lose our valuable, vibrant and lucrative manufacturing sector. It is a huge concern.

I want to add some more statistics in terms of job loss in this sector. Let us look at certain areas. In clothing and textiles, we have lost 40% of those sectors. We have lost 16% of the aerospace sector, 32% of our shipbuilding sector, 13% of the Canadian food and beverage sector, 13% of the country's primary metals, 9% of paper, 8% of wood products and 7% of our automotive sector. These indicate a huge loss of jobs and huge numbers of families today are living in great insecurity.

These losses are spread across the country. Nova Scotia is down in manufacturing by 20%. In the Kootenay region in B.C., it is down by 25%. British Columbia lost 13,700 jobs. We see that right across the country there is a huge loss in our manufacturing sector. I know that my own city of Toronto has lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs. This has caused a huge impact on many families in that area.

Let us look at the causes. This motion identifies the high dollar. Clearly, the high dollar is an urgent and devastating cause of job loss and stress on any sector of our economy that exports or relies on foreign investment, such as the tourism sector and our cultural sector. Our high dollar is having a huge impact.

As the member does in the motion, I also want to identify free trade and poorly negotiated trade deals as one of the problems. The previous government initiated a number of free trade deals. It initiated the current deal with Korea, which the government is continuing, whereby we already have a massive trade deficit. Our auto trade deficit, for example, now totals $1.7 billion, and today we are losing thousands of jobs in Canada because of this trade deficit with Korea, yet the previous government believed and the current government believes that we should just continue to export jobs to other countries like Korea without requiring balanced trade here in Canada.

We have also seen the previous government and the current government give carte blanche to companies in corporate tax cuts, with no strings attached and no requirement for these tax dollars to be invested back into the community in job creation and R and D. It is just a gift to companies, some of which, such as the banks and the oil and gas sector, are phenomenally profitable as they stand now and certainly do not need the gift of tax breaks that will fuel further upward pressure on the dollar. It is a fiscal policy that has also threatened our manufacturing sector.

The current government has continued this tax cutting agenda and seems to ignore the manufacturing crisis in the country. It is also ignoring what this means for workers who are losing their jobs and what that means to families.

When I raise this issue in the House in question period, the answer I get is that there are jobs being created across Canada, but if we look at what happens to people who lose jobs in the manufacturing sector, jobs that pay decent wages and have benefits which will help them support themselves and their families, we will see that often the jobs they end up with in exchange are jobs with low pay, insecure jobs and service sector jobs. They are not the kinds of jobs that allow them to live above the poverty line. That is a reason why I also have introduced a bill calling for a national minimum wage to be set at $10 a hour.

Another factor for people losing their jobs today in the manufacturing sector is the erosion of our employment insurance program. The previous government took billions of dollars paid in premiums by working people and employers, premiums that ought to have been given back to working people in benefits when they became unemployed. It failed to do that.

Today in my city of Toronto, only about 20% of unemployed workers get employment insurance. This means that 80% of working people are paying into a program but are not able to get the benefits when they need them.

We have an urgent manufacturing crisis in the country. It is critical not just for those who work in the manufacturing sector but for all of us right across the country. This is a high tech, high value added sector that is important to the overall strength of our economy. No other country in the world just throws open the doors and says, “Let the market decide”. All countries defend their manufacturing sector. They want to see further investment. They want to strengthen their manufacturing sector for the good of their populations.

Therefore, I support the motion. I urge its adoption.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's remarks and have a few questions and comments that she perhaps could respond to.

In her comments, she criticized the government's business tax cuts. I am curious to know if she is aware that the previous NDP government in Saskatchewan had recently been pursuing that strategy. Does she think that when New Democrat governments cut taxes they also are wrong when they cut business taxes? That is my first question.

My second question is about the low national unemployment rate. Does the member not recognize that the country has one of its lowest unemployment rates in 30 or 33 years? The government does believe, for reasons of compassion and reasons of regional development, in assisting certain people, but the member should realize that nationally overall this nation has its overall lowest unemployment rate.

Finally, the member commented about the high dollar. What specifically does the NDP urge us to do to interfere with the dollar? We have seen how countries in Latin American and also Boris Yeltsin's former regime interfered with their currencies in direct ways. We saw those problems. We also understand that if we do interfere with the dollar, instead of letting the market control whether the dollar goes up or down, there will be higher prices for things like fruit, fuel and gasoline. What specific things does the NDP want to do to interfere with those macroeconomic elements?

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of tax cuts, does my hon. colleague not understand that when tax cuts are given with no strings attached to already enormously profitable sectors of the economy, so that they are just a gift to those sectors, that gives nothing back to other sectors of the economy?

How does it help for the government to give billions of dollars in tax cuts that fuel the oil and gas sector and bank profits? In regard to these tax cuts, for example, businesses that are making no profits today, such as the manufacturing sector of the economy, cannot take advantage of them.

With respect, if there are tax cuts, what is needed is targeted tax cuts. They should be tax cuts that are designed to stimulate the struggling sectors of the economy and are tied to outcome, that is, an investment in jobs in that sector, not just a blank cheque to an already profitable sector of the economy.

With respect, the hon. member says that we are in a low unemployment situation. I would like him to come to Brampton and tell the 1,100 Chrysler workers who are going to lose their jobs that because of a low unemployment situation they are welcome to line up for jobs at Wal-Mart and Tim Hortons. I would like him to come to Brampton and hear how popular that comment is.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to read for members one line from the motion we are debating today: “the re-establishment of an economic diversification program for forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservatives abolished”.

I am happy to say that I played a part in the program that was put together, but there is one issue that has not been mentioned. The program was open-ended because we did not know what forestry would face and there were many challenges. We could not foresee things such as the extremely high Canadian dollar. It was open-ended and it had a lot of value.

I have a question for the member. In April 2007 the Liberal Party announced that we would hold a national forestry summit. We wanted to bring together all stakeholders. There are five or more different and distinct regions of forestry in Canada, those being the east coast, Quebec, northern Ontario, the west, and the coastal region. We see tremendous value in bringing all of them together to discuss some of the issues and find an answer and a long term solution for forestry.

Would the member and her party support putting together a national forestry summit to try to deal with some of these issues from all aspects of forestry?

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly the forestry sector has been under incredible pressure of late. The recently negotiated softwood lumber agreement has not helped in the least and the high dollar, of course, is just the icing on the cake.

In response to the hon. member's question, I believe there is merit in bringing together regional voices from the same sector. In fact, I believe the government should be looking at sectoral strategies for all elements of our economy, especially the sectors that are struggling. I believe in the value of tripartite discussions in getting the--

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate about the problem of plant closures in Canada, whether in the forestry industry or the textile industry.

The Conservative Party likes to boast about how the unemployment rate is the lowest in the last 30 years. There is a problem, though. The unemployment rate may be at its lowest, but it does not tell us how many people are having to work three jobs to earn enough money to support their families. They have to work in one restaurant during the day, in another restaurant in the evening and in yet another on the weekend. The Conservative Party never talks about the fact that families have lost good jobs and found themselves with minimum-wage jobs instead.

It would be interesting to do a study. The government has the resources to do it; it had a $14 billion surplus last year. It should do a study to find out where the jobs went. I am sure that they did not all go to Alberta, to Fort McMurray, or “Fort MakeMoney”, as it is called. No, they have been transformed into jobs that pay low wages, so people have to have two or three jobs. We can indeed say that the unemployment rate has fallen; however, we must also look at the incomes that families are earning.

In recent years—and this started while the Liberal Party was in government—we have had the softwood lumber problem. For years, until this problem was settled with the United States, it handicapped and hurt forestry companies. When the Conservatives came to power, they decided that $4 billion would do the job, even though the Americans owed us $5 billion. So we lost $1 billion to the Americans. That is just fine, because we have piles of money in Canada and we are drowning in surpluses. Rather than invest that money in infrastructure in our towns and villages, the Conservative government hands it over to the Americans, to the tune of $1 billion, no problem. And then they think they have solved the problem. But they have not solved it, because the companies were affected after that.

For example, in my riding, in October 2005 when the Smurfit-Stone company closed down in Bathurst, as it did in New Richmond, jobs were lost and that really hurt the communities. These were jobs in a paper mill that had been in Bathurst for at least 100 years. It was formerly operated by Consolidated-Bathurst. It had been there for many years.

One of the problems that arose was because Canada and governments had not been vigilant in the past when it came to the freedom to sell our companies to foreign businesses. For example, one company was sold to an American business, Stone, which was then bought by Smurfit, which ultimately became Smurfit-Stone. All of a sudden, one fine day in New York, in their administrative offices, the directors of that company said to themselves that they had enough production, and looked at the map and decided to close the paper mills in Bathurst and New Richmond, period. It is over, we are cleaning house.

They send the timber harvested in the forests to another company that is foreign-owned. Take, for example, UPM which bought the Miramichi company. The timber harvest goes to Miramichi. That was when the UPM plant decided to closes its door for 9 to 12 months. Six hundred employees were laid off for 9 to 12 months. Now, we learn that the timber has been loaded on boats at Belledune and sent to Finland because Russia is refusing to provide wood to Finland. And we are the ones who are paying the price. We can see why Canadian companies have closed: foreign companies look after their own country first.

I personally wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada and to the Minister of Natural Resources asking them what our Liberal colleague from Cape Breton—Canso had asked earlier: should there not be a summit meeting to discuss the situation? I also wrote to the premier of New Brunswick, Shawn Graham, a Liberal, to ask the same thing: Why do you not bring all the players together around the same table; industry, unions, governments and people in the region? I suggested to them that they should bring these people together around a table so they could discuss this major problem.

I was not very proud of the reply from the premier of New Brunswick. He replied that we are lucky to have those companies because otherwise it would be worse. Close the plant, take the wood and ship it to Finland. Could it be worse than that? It is shameful and scandalous that we have lost our jobs.

Moreover, we are losing our resources that are being sent to foreign countries. It is not enough that they come in and close our companies; in addition, they say that if we want to buy their companies, we must not compete with them. How can a paper company not compete with another paper company? They come and tell us that it is closed and to forget them. That is what they told us.

Finland is not the only place that wood from New Brunswick is being sent. It is also going to Chicago. During my tour, I went to Hearst and Kapuskasing, in Ontario, where the same problem exists. They are closing the sawmills; the wood goes to the United States and they lose their wood. I am certain that the same thing happens in Quebec and that the wood is going elsewhere.

The government is not proactive. It is doing absolutely nothing to stop this. The only thing they tell us is that it could be worse.

Last week, this is what we learned about a textile company in New Brunswick. The company is Fils Fins Atlantique of Pokemouche in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst and Atholville in the Restigouche area. It employs about 300 people. This company does business with South America, which imposes a 15% tax. With the dollar now so high, and with the 15% tax, it cannot make ends meet. The industry and the unions are asking for an agreement to remove that 15% and to have a bilateral agreement—that was already negotiated some time ago but has never been signed—to help the company to find new jobs. How many textile companies have also closed in Quebec? They are closing everywhere.

The Conservative government has the nerve to boast to us that Canada's economy is strong. I can state that the economy is not doing that well in rural areas and in regions, like ours, where there is practically no more fishery. That is also the case in the Acadian peninsula and in southeastern New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia. The forestry sector is closing down because of foreign companies that buy our companies, then close their doors and distribute or ship our wood to their own countries.

The federal government is doing absolutely nothing. The Liberal government with its 13 years in power has nothing to brag about either. This story about not being in power because the NDP made the government fall is old hat now. They are not in power because Canadians threw them out. They were involved in scandals, they stole money from the public and that is why they got rid of them. It was the public who did that, not the NDP. The people were given the opportunity to vote and they booted them out. They had 13 years to settle our problems in our regions.

The Conservatives have nothing to brag about. On their watch, there have been closures of sawmills, paper mills, textile mills all over in the rural regions, once after the other. Furthermore, it is not true that all our people want to go to Alberta, even if a number of them do so to get work. People move to the west, to Saskatchewan, to the Northwest Territories, although they want to be back home. They have families and they would like to be able to work at home. What is more, they deserve to be able to do so.

I am asking the government to get all the players into the game, to set up a strategy and not to put it off until next year. How can we stem the flow of closures and sales of our Canadian companies? Perhaps by handing them over to our local people? Perhaps a movement should be started up to form cooperatives and to hand them over to people in the regions with the ability to handle their own production. We ought to be able to create jobs in our regions rather than watching businesses close one after the other. Governments try to boast about their good track record, but there are places out there where things are not working out. In some parts of Canada, the rural areas have been forgotten.

It is to be hoped that measures will be put in place to help those who have lost jobs, whether at Fils Fins, in the forest industry or in some other sector.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech presenting his party's position on the Bloc Québécois motion.

In his speech, he described what the implications would be for the companies and industries involved. He also touched on the implications for the people who work there. At the end of the month, the House will begin the second hour of debate on Bill C-269, at third reading. This is one of the measures to help working people who lose their jobs. It is inevitable: there are no more jobs and so they have to fall back on employment insurance.

Our colleague is very familiar with all the damage that the other two parties have done to the employment insurance program.

Could my hon. colleague tell us what his position is on the royal recommendation that the government has to provide to the bill on the employment insurance program so that it can be voted on at third reading? These changes are needed to help people who are unemployed.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas for his very good question. The government has already taken $54 million from the employment insurance fund. In addition, from 2006 to 2007, the federal government announced a $3.3 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, and from March to today, its surplus has been $1.7 billion. The reason why the government does not want to give this bill the royal recommendation is that it thinks all is well in Canada. It thinks unemployment is going down and, since there are no more problems, it can go on drawing from the employment insurance fund, just like the Liberals used to do.

We had agreed to say that Bill C-269 is similar to Bill C-265. Even the Liberals agreed, but now they have started to slip on the ice. Is it because winter has arrived that their skates have started slip? They do not want to support us on this bill now because they are afraid that, if they return to power some day, they will not be able to continue the cuts they began in 1996.

We need to remember that the employment insurance problem is the Liberals’ baby, even though the difficulty was created by the Conservatives before them under Brian Mulroney. The cuts started in the Brian Mulroney era and were continued by Jean Chrétien’s government and so, on and on.

This bill would help people who live in rural areas or have jobs in seasonal industries to qualify for employment insurance. The Bloc has often talked as well about the bill or motion to come to the aid of working people 55 years and older who lose their jobs. However, the government is still in neutral on this. It does not want to talk about it and has no intention of helping these people. But the government is there all right when it is time to help big business and the big banks by giving them big tax breaks. It is just too bad for working people, according to the government. They should just move to Alberta. But not everybody can move to Alberta.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who is always very eloquent. I agree with him that we no longer look as good as we used to compared to other countries. We do not look as good as we used to, period.

My question for him is similar to the question my colleague from Chambly—Borduas asked. I want to ask about financial assistance for workers who have been affected by crises in the manufacturing and forestry sectors.

Does my colleague think the government should implement a permanent program for seasonal workers that will not encourage them to change careers, but will enable them to round out their seasonal work with a related or complementary job by helping them, not penalizing them?

We need qualified people in these two industries—which are primarily regional—now, and we will need them in the future. Such a program would enable these industries to retain qualified workers.

I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for her question.

When the Employment Insurance Act was amended in 1996, there were two phases to employment insurance. The purpose of phase 2 was to offer training. That is the only government program that an individual does not have access to unless that individual has been chosen to receive training.

People want to work, and they want to qualify. This is a sad situation, because employment insurance could help so many workers. The surplus is not $54 million; it is $54 billion. Just think of all the good things that could happen when an industry finds itself in trouble. The government could provide training, and it could set up programs to help older workers until they turn 65. The money is there, but the government does not want to help because the employment insurance fund is its cash cow.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

The member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.