Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-28, in which I take a great interest. First of all, I should point out that this bill introduced by the Conservative government was drafted for purely partisan reasons.
By drafting a single bill to implement the provisions of the March 2007 federal budget, the provisions of the October 2007 economic statement and the side deal with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia on equalization, the government has introduced legislation that may be designed to provoke an early federal election.
The Conservatives could simply have introduced a separate bill for each part of Bill C-28.
But no. It is important to remind this House that even though the Bloc Québécois voted for the March 2007 federal budget, we have always opposed side deals on equalization.
Now, Nova Scotia is getting new benefits under an accord that the Bloc Québécois has always denounced. We also opposed the economic statement because it did not address the Bloc Québécois' five priorities.
For example, the measures in the economic statement do not meet the urgent needs in the manufacturing and forestry sectors and do not include an older worker assistance program, even though the Conservative government could afford one, given the $11.6 billion surplus it announced in the economic statement.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois, as a responsible party that defends Quebec's interests, will vote against this bill.
As for the economic statement, this government has demonstrated that it is completely indifferent to the problems facing workers in the manufacturing and forestry sectors and the communities that depend on those sectors.
The Conservatives have demonstrated once again their total disdain for the lot of these thousands of workers who have been so greatly affected. This attitude appears all the more disdainful when we realize that the federal government has huge financial means with which to provide them with assistance.
The Conservative government had the means to help the manufacturing sector by providing loans for new production equipment and for massive investments in innovation.
It could have helped older workers as well. We estimate that it would cost $60 million to set up an income support program for older workers, something that we have been demanding for a very long time and that Quebec has also been calling for since the POWA was terminated.
Despite its vast surpluses, the government could not even come up with a hundred dollars a month to increase the guaranteed income supplement for seniors and ensure that the poorest of them have enough income to keep them above the poverty line.
There is nothing here for our manufacturing and forestry sectors, nothing for older workers who lose their jobs, and nothing to help seniors. Yet the Conservatives did not hesitate to cut taxes. What ridiculous propaganda. Who will benefit from these tax cuts? Rich oil companies in western Canada. The Conservative Party's only goal is to help the oil industry and, of course, scuttle the Kyoto accord.
These tax cuts will not do forestry companies and manufacturers one bit of good because these businesses are in crisis and are not making a profit.
All told, this government has presented measures that are completely out of touch with Quebec's priorities but that are great for their friends, the rich oil companies.
Once again, this proves that Quebec ministers in the current federal government have been sidelined. They have no real power, they cannot defend Quebec's interests, and they are just there to promote Alberta's oil industry.
The Conservative government's shameful indifference to the problems facing the manufacturing sector and the powerlessness of Conservative government members from Quebec are jeopardizing key economic sectors in Quebec.
Take job losses in Quebec's manufacturing sector: 135,000 manufacturing jobs—one in five—have been lost in Quebec since December 31, 2002, and 65,000 of those since the Conservative Party came to power. Nearly half of the 275,000 jobs lost in Canada during that period were lost in Quebec. The Conservative Party says that it is acting in the best interest of all Canadians, but it is certainly not acting in the best interest of Quebeckers.
Unfortunately, we have not seen the end of this yet. Yesterday, AbitibiBowater announced the permanent closure of several locations, including the Belgo mill in Shawinigan. Between now and March 2008, over 500 jobs will be lost. This is an economic disaster for Mauricie because closing this mill means losing $30 million in salaries and $60 million in economic spinoffs for the Shawinigan region. This is an economic disaster.
What is the government waiting for?
One thousand Quebeckers who work for AbitibiBowater will lose their jobs. This is a tragedy for these workers and their families, and it is dreadful news to be receiving just before Christmas.
The Conservative government needs to take a long hard look at how it has managed the forestry and manufacturing crisis. Everyone has been begging for help for years now, but the government just ignores those pleas, or promises measures that, for now, do not amount to anything.
Forestry workers have to know that this government is refusing to help them. That is unacceptable. The government has to help these workers who are going through the worst crisis in their history, a crisis that is made worse by the government's mismanagement.
In my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, which I have the honour of representing, the furniture sector is quite important. In Berthier—Maskinongé, we have a number of innovative and dynamic companies and skilled and creative workers who, in the past, like everywhere else in Quebec, have shown that they can face the new challenges of international competition.
Now, in light of this new trade reality we are experiencing, this industry needs the government's support to help it adapt.
Let us not forget that this furniture industry has seen a 22% decrease in its labour force. It is currently generating roughly 24,000 jobs, while in 2000 it generated roughly 30,500. Employment is decreasing in the furniture industry and the federal government, with its huge surplus, is not doing anything about it.
In December 2006, I tabled a notice of motion calling on the federal government to implement an aid package to support the furniture industry as it adjusts to the rising Canadian dollar. I also asked for support to help the industry cope with fierce competition from emerging countries. Unfortunately, the federal government chose not to present any aid package or research support program to help this industry adapt.
As I have indicated, the Conservative government had the means to help the manufacturing sector by providing loans for new production equipment and for massive investments in innovation.
What more can I say? The federal government is only working on defending the oil industry and abolishing any form of intervention to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. It is only working for western Canada.
It presented an economic statement that is out of touch and does not meet our needs. In this statement, the government chose to help western Canadian oil companies and left the manufacturing sector to fend for itself at a time when it is experiencing the worst situation in years.
The Bloc Québécois cannot accept that the government is standing idly by as Quebec's manufacturing and forestry sectors crumble and fall.