Mr. Speaker, I want to continue the remarks that I was about to begin with respect to the economic update that the government said it presented last week.
The reason I say “said it presented” is that as I stated in my preamble, in my initial discussion, there was no response to the crisis of the day, a crisis that was recognized by the Prime Minister, reiterated by his Minister of Finance, and reinforced by the Prime Minister's presence in the G20 discussions of about 10 days ago.
From our perspective as Canadians, we all needed to have action to address the issues of Canadians and the way they lead their lives. It is no secret to anybody who follows Canada, who follows the way we earn our moneys, the way we develop our standard of living and the way we enhance our quality of life, that certain industries needed immediate attention, and that to them the government said, “No, not yet”.
The first of these is of course the forestry industry. Members might have heard some of the questions during question period. The forestry industry is responsible for about $85 billion worth of our GDP. It is a big contributor to our economy. In addition to the immediate cash that comes into our GDP, it is responsible for approximately 800,000 jobs directly and indirectly related to the forestry business. Whether it is paper mills, lumber mills, or lumber manufacturing, it means approximately 800,000 jobs directly and indirectly.
Of those 800,000 jobs, 300,000 are directly responsible to the forestry industry. It is one of the bulwarks of our economy. Three hundred communities, 300 small or large towns, are directly dependent upon lumber and lumber alone. Those 300 communities, those 300,000 individuals, look to their government, to us, for some indication that we are about to protect not only their lifestyles but their futures.
In his economic update the Minister of Finance said, “Sorry, not interested. I am going to continue with the way that I dealt with this before”. When the softwood lumber agreement collapsed and there was an imposition of countervailing tariffs, our producers put $5 billion on the table during very tough negotiations. It was spread over several years. The government opposite decided that it would negotiate by leaving 25¢ on the dollar in the hands of our competitors to the south.
Is it any wonder that some of those sawmills and paper mills are shutting down? Is it any wonder that the lumber industry in Canada is facing the challenges it faces today? In addition to the collapse of the construction industry in the United States, we had to give 25¢ on the dollar for every one of those dollars that we put on the table for tariffs and countervail to our direct competitors in the industry down south.
That is the way the government has handled the economic stresses facing Canadians in those remote and isolated communities that depend upon the forestry industry. It is the same indifference, the same disdain that the government has demonstrated with respect to the auto industry.
I know my colleague from Guelph knows the statistics very well. Over 500,000 jobs are directly or indirectly related to the auto industry in Canada. Some figures put that number at 570,000. He knows quite well that for every job in the assembly plant, there are seven to ten other jobs that directly flow from that activity.
When we talk about the auto industry, we are talking about at least half a million people who are directly or indirectly related to the assembly industry, the auto parts industry and the associated dealerships.
When we think about how that translates to life as Canadians, it is approximately a million people, perhaps a little bit more. A million families are directly dependent on the auto industry. One million people is the equivalent of the entire population of Saskatchewan, the entire population of Manitoba, more than the population of Nova Scotia, twice the population of Newfoundland, and 10 times the population of Prince Edward Island.
Those people who depend upon the health of the auto sector and the auto parts sector have every right to receive the attention of the government. It is not just in assembly or manufacturing, even though they are very important elements of the auto industry.
Think for a moment of all of the moneys that we have attempted to invest in human resources development and skills training, in research and development. Think of all the engineering jobs, the educational jobs, the institutions that were built in association with auto assembly and auto parts in Canada, specifically in southern Ontario.
My colleague from Guelph would agree that some of those universities and community colleges stretching down along the golden horseshoe are not so much interested in whether the auto industry is going to get x dollars or y dollars.
They are interested in a government that takes a position that we must ensure appropriate negotiation, not only with the auto sector here in Canada but also with the auto sector in North America. What we need to do is make sure that the decisions made by the auto industry take into consideration the needs of Ontario and the needs of Canada, and that decisions with respect to the auto industry are kept front and centre.
I note that the government has taken credit for the fact that the Government of Canada has been responsive to the auto sector in the past. It might come as a surprise to some people in this room, but the government that actually did consider and concern itself with the auto sector was none other than the former government, a Liberal government.
I had the extreme pleasure of being the minister responsible for Ontario when that happened. Now the government takes credit for it, four years after the fact. The Minister of Industry is a good man. I know him well. He went down south and was kept in the lobby. Nobody wanted to talk to the Government of Canada about this critical issue.
For us the important thing is to exercise the political weight that has been garnered by governments past in order to ensure the enormous input and investment that we have in the educational, academic, human resources, and skills development areas of the auto sector.
As the government sees itself through the manufacturing and auto industries, are we going to engage in discussions with governments that impact on these decisions?
Clearly the government opposite does not have that interest. It blames the industry, just as it blames so many other people for their own woes. It says the auto manufacturers are producing cars that nobody wants to buy. That is true. It also says that the workers are getting too much money and that their pensions are exorbitant. Why would you blame people for their own success?
What we need to do is ask the government to address what happens to those of the 2.6 million vehicles produced in Canada that are exported into Maine. About 1.5 million are exported outside this country. Think about what that does to the relative wealth of everybody in this nation.
When the auto industry picks up again and 3 million cars per year are consumed as a portion of Canadian consumption, where are those vehicles going to come from?
Where is the research and development going to come from for the development of those new vehicles? Is it going to be some place in Asia? Will it be Japan, China, India? Is it going to be Europe?
Where are the engineering, architecture, and research and development jobs that lead to the new technology that is going to drive the next phase of manufacturing going to be developed? Are they going to be developed here in Canada, or are we going to import the final end product from abroad?
That is what the economic update should have addressed. We did not hear a word about that. We did not hear a single word in the presentation about it. We did not hear one plan about how to insinuate Canada into discussions relative to the research and development of tomorrow and the manufacturing of tomorrow. We did not see one iota of evidence that the Government of Canada, as it is currently constituted, is concerned about the biggest industry in Canada.
I know members wanted me to talk about the construction industry as well. I hope I will get the opportunity to do so, because it is another important segment of the shortfall of the economic update, an economic update that needs to be defeated.