Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.
It is my duty to rise today to address the situation in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. In my country, Quebec, these sectors are going through a serious crisis. In my area and in my riding of Gatineau, in the Outaouais region, we can feel their pain.
At the Domtar plant located in Gatineau, in the Outaouais region, there are only 70 active workers remaining to provide electric, steam and sewer services to the neighbouring Kruger plant. At the end of October, 180 out of the 250 Domtar employees were laid off. They were producing coated paper for magazines.
The union and the revitalization committee are continuing to work relentlessly to get this federal government to help the plant keep its machinery operational, so that an eventual buyer can take over and restart production, and thus, give back jobs to the papermakers who were cut loose last month. They are asking that the federal government help that plant as it did the Davie shipbuilding plant in Lauzon, near Quebec City, in the early 2000s, by keeping the machinery up to standard. That was successful over there, and the Davie Shipyard was revitalized. We wish the same for Domtar in Gatineau.
Incidentally, the Minister of Industry will meet later today with union representatives from that plant, namely Gene Hartley and Gérard Carrière, as well as myself. We will try to enlist the support of the current government in our efforts, as the workers from Davie, in Lauzon, did. I cannot imagine the Domtar plant in Gatineau shutting down completely. The 400 employees of the Kruger plant, also in Gatineau, which depends on the three services Domtar continues to provide, might also fall victim to the current crisis in the paper industry.
I think of the Bowater plant, located in my riding. This paper plant employed 1,450 workers in 1991. Today, there are only 425. Last March, 171 papermakers were laid off. As Gaston Carrière, union leader and president of Local 142 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, pointed out, in February 2007, the multinational announced to the employees operating machine No. 3 that the machine would be temporarily idled for 30 days. One week before production was to resume, Bowater announced that machine No. 3 would be idled indefinitely.
At a press conference in June 2007, Mr. Carrière said he saw employees with 25 to 30 years of service in tears. In this case, the Conservative government's program for older workers did not pay a single cent to those individuals. It is a trumped-up program whose criteria are so strict that one would have to live on Saturn to access it.
That is the current state of the manufacturing and forestry crisis. It is extremely difficult for the workers who have been affected, as well as their family and community. The Bloc Québécois would like to play an active role in boosting these industrial sectors. This is why I support the motion put forth by my colleague, the Bloc Québécois' industry critic, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières:
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.
Like the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Bloc Québécois believes that by taking no action, the Conservative Party is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Here are some solutions the Bloc Québécois has come up with: support the workers hit by the crisis; create an income support program for older workers, to enable workers aged 55 to 64 who cannot be retrained and who are victims of massive layoffs to bridge the gap between employment insurance and their pension fund; make substantial improvements in the employment insurance program by increasing the accessibility period by five weeks for all regions, regardless of the unemployment rate; raise the benefit rate from 55% to 60% and base the benefit calculation on the best 12 weeks; eliminate the waiting period and reduce the minimum number of insurable hours required to qualify for benefits to 360; create financial tools to encourage companies to invest and modernize, such as a program of loans and loan guarantees to help companies modernize. These loans, which would be made available to companies at the market rate for financially healthy companies, would be especially useful to companies in financial difficulty that cannot easily borrow on private markets or have to pay a risk premium, which adds to their interest charges.
Introducing this program would mean lower interest rates for companies that are investing. While the higher dollar should let companies renew their production equipment at a low cost, they simply do not have the ready cash to invest.
As well, companies need better tax support for research, development and innovation. The government needs to expand the types of eligible expenses by including the costs of obtaining patents or the costs of training employees who are working on innovative projects.
The Research and Development Tax Credit must be made refundable so that businesses will benefit from it even though they are at the development stage and do not make any profit.
A program must be established to provide support for the production of energy and ethanol fuels using forest waste. Besides contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases, such a program would allow forest-dependent businesses to have additional revenue coming from the sale of energy and to spend less for petroleum fuel.
Fixed greenhouse gas reduction targets must quickly be set in order for a carbon credit exchange market to be established. I would like to point out that aluminum smelters and forest-dependent businesses have made important efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Let us also think about modernizing the trade legislation to better protect businesses against unfair competition. The Canadian antidumping legislation goes back to the Cold War era and is completely outdated in the present context, particularly as we face the competition from China. It is urgent to get the Canadian trade legislation up to par with other industrialized countries, especially the United States and the European Union countries. The member for Terrebonne—Blainville has in fact introduced Bill C-411 for the benefit of all Quebecers and Canadians.
That is what the Bloc Québécois is proposing. It is proposing solutions to major problems. All that is missing now is the political will. On our side, we have the will. We raise these issues and we manage to meet with citizens suffering from crisis such as the one we are facing now, in the forestry and manufacturing sectors among others.