That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately establish a series of measures to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors hard hit by the rising dollar and increased competition from new players in the field of low-cost mass production, specifically including a program to support businesses that wish to update their production facilities, a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development in the industry, the re-establishment of an economic diversification program for forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservatives abolished, a review of the trade laws to better protect our companies against unfair competition, and better financial support of workers affected by the crisis in the manufacturing sector.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Shefford.
The crisis affecting the forestry and manufacturing sectors is unprecedented. This is, without question, the worst crisis we have ever experienced. All industry stakeholders agree on this. What we need is action. Everyone agrees that the situation cannot go on like this—everyone except the Conservative government. It alone is happy with a laissez-faire approach. It is content to give tax breaks to the rich western oil and gas companies, while Quebec's manufacturing and forestry sectors are facing a crisis.
Here are some facts: since December 31, 2002, 135,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Quebec, which translates into one in five workers. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, 65,000 jobs have been lost. Approximately half of the 275,000 jobs lost in Canada during this period were jobs in Quebec. Every one cent increase in the value of the Canadian dollar against the American dollar threatens 19,000 manufacturing jobs.
Let us now turn to the forestry sector. Between May 2002 and April 2005, a total of 10,000 jobs in the sawmills and paper plants were lost. The forestry sector represents nearly 100,000 jobs in 240 towns and villages in Quebec that are today threatened by decline. The urgent need for action is obvious. Every 1¢ increase represents $500 million in lost revenue for the forestry industry in Canada. The Forest Industry Council estimates the loss at $150 million for Quebec. I repeat: the situation is serious. It threatens the industrial base of our economy. That is why the Bloc Québécois is using this opposition day to remind the Conservative government that urgent action is needed.
We know there are problems. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology spent nearly a year studying various recommendations. It submitted a report in February 2007. After all those hearings, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology made 22 recommendations. Of those 22 recommendations, the Conservative government agreed only to the accelerated capital cost allowance, which actually helps Alberta’s industries and damages Quebec’s economy. As a result, in proposing this motion, the Bloc wants measures to be taken immediately.
We have solutions. We have proposals. The first proposal for solving this crisis is to implement a program to support businesses that wish to update their production facilities. We have to implement a program of loans and loan guarantees to help businesses modernize. We know that these businesses are in bad financial shape. We know how hard they are finding it to borrow on the markets, which means they have to pay a risk premium, and so the interest they pay goes up. The government has to help these businesses. It must guarantee loans for such businesses, so they will be able to update their production facilities, to modernize, and so be able to get through the current crisis.
We are also proposing a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development. The government has to improve the fiscal support provided for research and development and for innovation in business. It has to expand the types of expenditures that are eligible, for example by including the cost of obtaining patents or the cost of training people to work on innovative projects. The government has to make the research and development tax credit a refundable credit. Certainly there is no point in giving tax cuts to businesses that are not making profits. Giving businesses that invest in research and development refundable tax credits, however, is a large part of the solution.
The federal government has to support research; it must cancel the cuts it has made to the Technology Partnerships Canada and instead increase its funding and reinvigorate all of the leading edge sectors that the Conservatives have abandoned. Leading edge sectors like pharmaceuticals, environmental technologies, new materials and new production technologies have been left to their own devices. Contrary to what the government claims, tax cuts are not the solution to every problem.
Another solution would be to bring back an economic diversification program for the forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservative government cut.
As a member from a resource region myself, I know very well what difficulties a region can face when its main source of economic activity disintegrates. The Bloc is going to pay particular attention, therefore, to the resource regions affected by the current crisis in the forest industry which desperately need to diversify their industrial base in order to deal with the situation.
We should bring back a support program to help diversify the regional economies that have been hit hard by the downturn in the forest industry. There should be tax breaks for companies that operate in resource regions. Among other things, we should encourage companies to help skilled workers find employment in the regions. There should be a program to support the production of energy and ethanol from the forest industry's waste.
The Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec cancelled the special program we used to have specifically for the regions affected by the crisis in the forest industry. That is the government’s laissez-faire policy. There was nothing on this in the Speech from the Throne or in the finance minister’s economic statement. There is an urgent need for action.
Our trade legislation also needs to be revised in order to protect our companies better against unfair competition. Canada’s anti-dumping legislation goes back to the days of the cold war and is completely out of touch with the new realities, especially the emerging economies and China. There is an urgent need to put Canadian trade law on the same footing as the trade law of the other industrialized countries, particularly the United States and the countries of the European Union. That is what the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville has proposed in Bill C-411, An Act to amend the Special Import Measures Act (domestic prices). We will return to that later.
The Conservatives have decided not to make use of the trade legislation that makes it possible to provide temporary protection for our companies and gives them time to adjust to the new realities and modernize. We can only dream of a government with some vision that would protect the jobs in our districts.
The final element is financial support for the workers affected by the crisis in manufacturing. Employment in this sector has been devastated. Some 135,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Quebec, or the equivalent of one worker in five since December 31, 2002. Quebec has been especially hard hit by the slump, and the arrival of the Conservative government has only made things worse. Since January 2006, about 65,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost.
Given the situation, the government must revisit its position on enhancing the employment insurance program. The Bloc has been proposing for years that real improvements be made to the employment insurance program and, in particular, that the benefit period be increased by five weeks for all regions, no matter what the rate of unemployment. Benefits must be increased from 55% to 60% with the calculation based on the 12 best weeks. The qualifying period should be eliminated and the minimum number of insurable hours needed to qualify should be reduced to 360 hours.
Employment insurance is a right, not a privilege. Workers and companies pay for employment insurance. Together, they establish measures to meet needs in the event of difficult times. We are now in difficult times, but the employment insurance program is nowhere in sight. Furthermore, what are we to make of the lack of a program for older workers who have been the victims of massive layoffs? My colleagues will tackle this later. This is a very important element.
The Bloc Québécois is well rooted in its communities. The Bloc Québécois supports Quebeckers, who are seeking solutions and a resolution to this major crisis for Quebec. Therefore, with this opposition day, we must convince the government that there is an urgent need for action. The future of our communities is at stake.
It is very urgent that action be taken and I urge all my colleagues in this House to vote in favour of this motion.