Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise here today to speak to Motion M-158, which reads:
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”.
It would be easy enough for the government to implement this motion. It would help to preserve the few jobs that remain in Canada in the textile and clothing sectors.
For years, my Liberal colleagues and I have been exerting pressure to obtain support and to force the government to move this file forward. The Bloc decided to join our fight, but as a party that will never be in power, it can hardly make things happen.
Furthermore, much of the progress achieved in this file comes as a result of the hard work of my former colleague, the former member for Ahuntsic, the hon. Eleni Bakopanos. I would also like to commend the work undertaken in this file by the Liberal Party's new labour critic, the hon. member for Davenport.
Personally, as the member of Parliament for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, a riding where many clothing and textile factories once did business—which, sadly, is no longer the case, I often had the opportunity to meet and speak with people who owned and worked in those businesses and to learn more about the challenges and obstacles facing their industry.
As my hon. colleagues know, the Canadian textile and clothing sector still represents a major source of economic activity and revenue in Canada. Located primarily in large urban centres such as Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, textile companies employ many Canadians of all ages.
Canada's apparel and textile industries began to adapt as soon as they were faced with increasing competition from abroad. From my discussions with various stakeholders, I know that the industry is ready and has been working on ways to confront the new challenges as it faces the move from conducting business with local or domestic clients and markets to competing against huge international players with vast financial resources.
With the continued development of the world, and in particular the rise of third world nations, these industries are being forced to transact in a global economy. Consequently, the Canadian apparel and textile industries have had to transform themselves over the past decade by focusing on higher value added products, on innovative ways to work, on producing attractive new goods, and by identifying and winning niche markets for their products.
However, further change continues to be the order of the day. As I have mentioned, many domestic producers in all industries are faced with strong competition and obstacles internationally, but Canadian manufacturers also have particular problems that other global players do not necessarily have to deal with.
For starters, in the last few years we have seen the appreciation of the Canadian dollar versus the American dollar, which has added to the price of goods manufactured in Canada compared to goods coming from other parts of the world.
Second, the wage disparity between a country like Canada, with its higher standard of living, versus third world countries where wages are a fraction of the cost is also a factor in Canadian goods being more expensive.
Third, the Canadian industry has also had to deal with the dumping of goods by foreign competitors into worldwide markets that are less regulated, whereas Canadian goods are less protected from regulation abroad.
Although many of these changes are not unique to the apparel and textile industries, they are nevertheless having an impact upon the conditions in which these industries have operated and continue to operate. It is in the face of these challenges that the former Liberal government established numerous initiatives to enhance the long term viability of the textile and apparel industries. It is why our party voted in favour of Motion No. 164 in 2005. That is why I will be supporting Motion No. 158 in this session.
I would like to briefly speak to some of the accusations by members of the House that the previous Liberal government did not come to the aid of the textile industry and outline some of the former Liberal government's past measures. It is unfortunate that political grandstanding by members of the opposition and the government can get in the way of facts and that members conveniently forget about the many initiatives the Liberal Party undertook to help this industry because we recognized its urgent needs.
In 2005 I made an announcement on behalf of the Liberal government at Peerless Clothing, located in my riding. I announced the elimination of tariffs on textile inputs not produced in Canada as well as additional measures to help strengthen the competitiveness of these industries.
In 2004 the Liberal government introduced the $26.7 million CANtex program to help Canadian textile manufacturing firms become more competitive and to help them get ready to take advantage of new opportunities. This was a program developed to help save the Canadian textile industry and Canadian jobs.
This past September, the Conservatives viciously and without reason cut dozens of cherished and useful programs in all departments and slashed the CANtex program's budget by $25 million, effectively shutting it down and stripping it of the power to help numerous businesses. This meanspirited attack on Canadian textile producers is a perfect example of how this government just does not get it.
Getting back to Liberal initiatives, in 2003 the Liberal government created CATIP, a three year program with a $33 million budget. Thanks to this program for Canadian apparel and textile manufacturers, funding was allocated to over 350 innovative strategic projects to enhance productivity, improve efficiency and identify new markets.
In addition, in 2002, the Canada Border Services Agency was allocated $0.9 million to combat the illegal transshipment of clothing and textiles by less developed countries.
The former Liberal government also advanced the cause of older workers. In 2005, the former member for Ahuntsic, the hon. Eleni Bakopanos, on behalf of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, announced a payment of $5.9 million from the sector council program to four projects administered by the Textiles Human Resources Council. Those projects were designed to support skills development in the textile industry, to promote the economic growth of the country and to increase Canada’s competitive capacity in this sector.
Moreover, Quebec signed an agreement for more than $3 million with the former Liberal government as part of the pilot projects designed for older workers. Under that agreement, the Liberal government of Canada made a commitment to continue to cooperate with Québec to address the needs of older workers and to find long-term solutions.
I would like to emphasize how much the efforts made by the former Liberal government contrast with the actions of the current Conservative government. When they were in opposition, Conservative members attacked the government for its so-called inaction. Today, those attacks seem completely empty because the Conservative government has done nothing special to improve the situation of the Canadian apparel industry or to ensure the security of older workers.
Last week the finance minister had a golden opportunity to deliver real help to the apparel and textile industries when he tabled the budget. He also had a chance to make up for his government's $25 million assault on the CANtex program. Stakeholders in the industry were paying close attention, hoping that the government would heed their pleas and deliver some aid to one of Canada's oldest and most important industries. Unfortunately, the textile and apparel industries received nothing from the government last week.
Some time ago, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology adopted some 20 recommendations concerning the manufacturing sector. Out of that number, the Minister of Finance included only one recommendation is his budget. The changes to allow accelerated write-off are certainly useful but for the companies that had already invested capital in machinery last year, or this year before the budget was tabled, that is not enough. What about those companies who do not need to invest in machinery but in human resources instead? Those companies also need help in terms of exporting and marketing their products. This latest budget does not give them very much to keep Canada in the forefront of international competition.
One must conclude that workers and stakeholders in the textile industry simply were not fortunate enough to be included among the chosen few that this Conservative budget is addressed to.
This was one of the highest spending budgets in Canadian history, yet the finance minister did nothing worthwhile to help this industry in dire straits. It is truly a sad testament to the short-sighted priorities of the government. In its narrow list of priorities, Canada's textile industry did not make the cut again. Many industries and communities did not either.