That, in the opinion of the House, the government should act on the motion proposing to help the textile and clothing industries adopted in the House on October 5, 2005, and worded as follows: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should establish, in compliance with international agreements, a policy of assistance to the textile and clothing industries in order to enable the industries to compete throughout the world, particularly by allowing clothing made with Canadian textiles but manufactured abroad to be imported without customs duties and by creating an income support program for older workers.”
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion that I proposed. I want to deal with the form first. The motion says that the government should act on the motion adopted on October 5, 2005.
One and a half year after this House adopted a motion asking the government to establish policies and programs to help the textile and clothing industries, the government still has not taken any action. We are not talking about subsidies, but about concrete measures proposed by stakeholders from both sectors. This inaction has terrible consequences.
For example, The Metropolitan Economy, the economic bulletin published by Montreal's economic community, includes the following, in its edition on the first quarter of 2006:
Continuing Decline in Clothing. Employment has been shrinking for six years now in textiles and clothing. From 62,000 jobs in 1999, it fell to only 28,000 by the first quarter of 2006.
Montréal clothing producers continue to lose ground on the Canadian market, and have also been slipping on the U.S. market since 2002. They have also had to cope with the complete elimination of international quotas since January 2005.
The elimination of these quotas affects Montréal producers not only on the domestic market, but also on the U.S. market, where they had made gains in the 1990s. In the first quarter, Canadian clothing imports were up by 5% year to year. Clothing exports plunged by 18% and textile exports by 23%. The most drastic impact is on foreign markets.
Those are the numbers. Let us now look at the reality.
In the last year, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has looked at the entire manufacturing sector. During the research, we visited many different locations. We went to Montreal to visit a company called Samuelsohn, which makes business suits of a very high quality using Canadian fabrics. These people use a special technique to create high-end clothing. A company called Peerless also makes business suits and is a very important manufacturer. These two companies have to compete with China regarding the products that can be submitted. This results in massive job loss.
For example, Quebec has been hit harder than Canada by the loss of jobs in the apparel sector—which includes knitting plants as well as plants manufacturing apparel and accessories. Forty per cent of all jobs have been lost. This industry now has only 36,000 employees, compared to 60,000 in 2000 and 98,000 in 1988.
The textile industry includes on one side the spinning, weaving and finishing operations and, on the textile product side, all the processing plants. In Canada, the number of employees went from 50,000 in 2000 to 41,000 in 2005, an 18% drop.
In Quebec, the industry now employs 20,000 people, compared to 24,000 in 2000 and 36,000 in 1988.
However, the decline of those industries is not inevitable. The Liberal government, which preceded this Conservative government, dithered for years before taking appropriate measures. It is truly responsible for the current situation. We have a highly skilled workforce. I have seen it at Peerless and Samuelsohn. These people are highly qualified and they earn low wages despite their heavy workload.
As members of Parliament, we work hard, but if we were in the shoes of the people who knit and work in the clothing and textile industries, at the end of the day, we would be very tired. These people deserve our support. They deserve a chance to improve their lot and make it through. It is possible.
Indeed, both industries have made suggestions that the Bloc Quebecois retained in the proposal that it put forward. We did not list them all in the motion. For example, we are talking about allowing clothing made offshore with Canadian textiles to enter duty free. In other words, when the threads are made here and the piece of clothing is made abroad then comes back to Canada without competing with clothing made here, we would like it to be duty free.
Right now, it is crazy. The threads and the fabrics that are used come from Canada. We have the clothing finished in other countries and, when it comes back to Canada, we have to pay customs duties. Yet, if it comes from very poor countries, from developing countries, and it is made from fabrics from India or Bangladesh, for example, there would not be any tariff on its arrival here. It is completely absurd. It is a perverse effect of the initiative that was taken to help the poorest countries.
This problem has needed fixing for a long time now, but we keep coming up against officials at the Department of Finance. We have not managed to budge them yet, but we hope we will soon.
The textile and clothing industry is not doomed. We can make things happen; we can propose measures. For example, the Bloc Québécois' strategy proposes implementing measures to encourage the use of textiles made in Quebec and Canada, such as the one I mentioned earlier: duty-free importation of clothing manufactured abroad. We could also impose stricter country of origin rules on developing countries. We think we are helping developing countries, but we are not. In the end, we are only hurting our local industries. We could negotiate to include Canada in agreements signed between the United States and Latin American countries. The Americans did not hesitate to sign bilateral agreements, such as the one with Caribbean countries.
The American market used to be a major outlet for Canadian textiles. We sold our textiles to the Americans and they made them into clothes. The Americans signed bilateral agreements with Caribbean countries. Now, clothing is manufactured there from American textiles. Then the clothing goes back to the United States duty-free. In Canada, we have to pay duties. We can no longer sell our textiles to clothing manufacturers. For clothing made in Caribbean countries to re-enter the United States duty-free, it has to be made from American textiles. We should fight fire with fire. Let us stop being boy scouts and start giving our industries a chance.
Furthermore, we should have a local purchasing policy wherever international agreements allow it. That would help. All we have to do is create awareness. When I became a member of Parliament, I did not check every piece of clothing I wore to see if it was made in Quebec or Canada. Now that I know the impact it has on employment, I do check. Every time I buy a suit, a shirt or any other item of clothing or cloth, I think about this issue so we can get results in the end.
We also have to help workers from companies that close down by giving them additional training. The Bloc Québécois fought to obtain a program for older worker adjustment. Finally, the new Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has agreed, for the first time, to assess the implementation of passive measures. What is a passive measure? It is an income that ensures income security for a family or individual until their old age pension kicks in because he or she tried everything to find a job and did not succeed. What is sad is that the government continues to wait and let things drag on. There will be nothing new in the next budget. In that regard, I think the Conservatives are doing even worse than the Liberals. The program for older worker adjustment is very important.
In the clothing sector, a sector in which people are older on average, nearly 45% of the workers were over 45 in 2005. There is a need. When a person has worked 25, 30 or 35 years in the textile industry, they do not become a computer technician overnight. It is not easy for them to just go work in another sector. They need opportunities. People want to work, but they do not necessarily get the training they need. They need to be given a chance because often these are people who came from somewhere else in the world. They are providing for their family here in Canada and they are also helping family members who still live in their home country. All they are getting in return for dedicating their life to a company and working for a very small salary is to end up on welfare because there is no program to help them. And our society produces wealth. There is a problem with the distribution of wealth and the government has to be aware of this issue.
Furthermore, we should also use safeguards in new trade agreements. What are safeguards? That is what the U.S. and Europe use in dealing with Chinese textiles.
Textiles from China arrived in huge quantities. In 2005, a rule included in international agreements came into effect. That rule allowed the Americans and the Europeans to control those imports and to limit the quantities during a three year period. The limits on textile imports were so radical that the Chinese agreed to negotiate the percentage increase, which allowed for a softer transition. Here, in Canada, that rule has not been used. The free market principle applies. We act a bit like boy scouts, believing that our complacency will give results. We have not seen any results yet.
Jobs are disappearing regularly. That was mentioned in the statistics on Montreal and it is the same thing in the regions. In my riding and in Montmagny, textile companies like Consoltex, closed their doors. Other businesses also disappeared during that period and the statistics for Montreal could be applied to the rest of Quebec. The number of jobs fell from 62,000 in 1999 to only 28,000 in the first quarter of 2006. That is an unacceptable disaster to which the successive governments should have reacted and that they could have alleviated with corrective measures.
We see an unacceptable laissez-faire. According to the protocol for the accession of China to the WTO, we could impose quotas on Chinese imports, for example. In fact, when China became a member of the WTO, it was accepted that countries could limit the increase of Chinese imports by setting temporary quotas to avoid mass closures of industries due to the arrival of that industrial giant.
As I said, the United States and Europe did it. Here, we did nothing. We could also adopt an international policy that could prevent offshoring. Minimum internationally accepted standards applicable to workers rights and environment protection must be included in trade agreements.
The same thing happened during the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century. Children were working in factories and people were saying that they could not do without them. It was the same thing in the days of the slave trade. People were saying that they could not do without the slaves. Today, we are saying that people are working for 25¢ an hour and that this is the way things are. In practice, the whole world will have to ensure that every worker's rights to minimum conditions are protected. We are currently penalizing our own workers who have significant expertise and, what is more important, we are not giving them a chance to participate in the increase in wealth that is generated by globalization. If globalization really existed, the regulations on the environment and the protection of working conditions would be standardized, and there would be a better distribution of wealth.
When millions of dollars are earned from the sale of aircraft or other products to other countries, some people are raking in profits. They can do it because the markets have been opened. Globalization has created victims. Our system cannot be judged only on the way it creates wealth. Right now, Canada and Quebec do not get a passing grade in the textile and apparel sector because the government has not implemented the proper programs.
The capper is that there used to be a program called CANtex that helped companies modernize. The Conservatives announced the good news that they were getting rid of this program as part of a series of cuts where, without giving much thought to what they were doing, they axed the court challenges program, which enabled organizations and people with limited financial resources to challenge improper court decisions. The government also cut funding for literacy programs. This is interesting. At a time when jobs are being cut in the textile and clothing industry and people are being advised to go to school and get training, literacy funding is being slashed. The government also eliminated the joint federal-provincial literacy initiatives program, which provided funding for developing original tools.
In Montmagny, for example, a major company, Whirlpool, cut 500 jobs. Only 200 to 250 of the 500 people who lost their jobs found new work. Some needed literacy services, and tools were developed for them. Now these programs are being cut. People cannot necessarily be trained in the same way at 15, 20, 45 and 55. The government does not seem to understand this.
Today, there are labour shortages in some sectors. If the government had kept on investing appropriately in literacy, people could fill those vacancies today. But they cannot, because the government hid behind the wave of neo-liberalism and told itself that the market would take care of everything. Well, the market cannot take care of everything. People deserve help. Some industries are growth sectors.
Today, the people who study textile are in touch with reality. They have modern plans and are willing to develop the industry. The same is true of the clothing industry. We have quality designers and a skilled workforce. The government's inaction angers these two sectors, which feel that the government has sacrificed them to the global market.
We do not accept it. That is what the Bloc Quebecois defends. I wish that, after adopting the motion of October 5, 2005, this House would have had the decency to adopt it again this year and to press the government so that, finally, we would have appropriate programs. In fact, there are still thousands of workers in that sector who deserve to be helped, not with subsidies, but with innovative programs encouraging the industries to perform and deliver results. That is what we expect from the government.