Mr. Speaker, I will not say that I am pleased to take part in this debate because I believe that this is a debate that we could very well have done without.
However, it will give me an opportunity to highlight some elements, including what we expect to see in the budget. In recent days and weeks, we have had the impression that the Conservative government and the Prime Minister have been attempting to blow all issues out of proportion and, if not for the purpose of triggering elections, at least in an attempt to apply pressure on the opposition parties perhaps as an attempt to show in an artificial way, some kind of leadership.
In this regard, I believe that the Bloc Québécois has the responsibility to denounce these manoeuvres that hide the real problems by focusing attention on the motion before us early this afternoon. For those listening, I will repeat the motion:
That, given the government has declared the passage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as a matter of confidence, and, that the bill has already been at the Senate longer than all stages took in the House of Commons, and that all aspects of this bill have already been the subject of extensive committee hearings in Parliament, and that in the opinion of this House the Senate majority is not providing appropriate priority to the passage of Bill C-2, a message be sent to the Senate calling on the Senate to pass Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, by March 1, 2008.
I will start by saying that we will support this motion even though, once again, I believe it is merely a diversionary tactic. The Bloc Québécois was in favour of Bill C-2 when it was voted on in this House. I would remind the House that Bill C-2 was an omnibus bill of sorts, since it consisted of five bills from the previous session. We were in favour of four of the five bills, and since the House had already voted and we had lost the vote, we thought the debate was over and the vote in the House was legitimate. Thus, from the beginning, we had expressed our agreement with four of the five bills, even before the government talked about making this a confidence vote.
We were, and still are, uncomfortable with one aspect of the fifth bill, that is, the notion of reverse onus for some repeat offenders. That said, after weighing the advantages and disadvantages, our caucus decided that it would be better to vote in favour of the bill, since it contained more aspects that we were completely comfortable with and that we supported. Bill C-2 does not pose a problem for us.
As everyone knows, the Bloc Québécois considers any institution associated with the British monarchy to be completely obsolete. In our view, the Senate, as one such mechanism left over from a time when Canada was a British colony, is completely outdated. Clearly, we kept up this British parliamentary tradition—and many among us are attached to it—but, that said, some vestiges need to be abolished. And the Bloc Québécois makes no secret of the fact that, although it is not a priority for us, the abolition of the Senate would not bother us, I can assure this House.
Since it is an institution made up of unelected parliamentarians, we would have no problem with that, since we do not see any legitimacy in that branch of the Parliament of Canada. As I said, given that we do not see any legitimate reason for the institution and that we would like to see it abolished, clearly, for us, voting on it in the House should be the end of the debate, instead of referring the bill, having it passed by a majority of the members of the House of Commons and sending it to an unelected Senate.
I will point out that there is an unelected minister, Mr. Fortier, who, I repeat, promised to run in an election at the first opportunity that came up. But since then, there have been at least three byelections in Quebec, and we would have been very happy to see him step up to the plate in order to truly have democratic legitimacy and to be in a position to make decisions affecting the day-to-day lives of Canadians and Quebeckers.
We feel that the Senate has no legitimacy and should be abolished. So we have no problem with the motion. But once again, we find it a bit childish that this is being debated in this House.
The Bloc Québécois will not prolong this debate, nor do we expect the Senate to follow up on this message by March 1, since it is a relatively short deadline. As I said, we are not about to give credibility to this institution inherited from the past.
However, I think there is something more fundamental behind this motion, and that is the government's, the Prime Minister's desire to create a diversion. I would even say that we have the exact same elements in the motion concerning Afghanistan. I do not want to say that the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan is not important, far from it, but I, and a number of observers—including all members of the Bloc and several opposition members, since I seem to recall hearing the Liberals' national defence critic mention that it should not be a confidence issue—believe that the debate on this issue should be as non-partisan as possible.
By making this a confidence motion, the government, the Prime Minister, has decided to use this debate to create a political crisis and to trigger, perhaps indirectly, an election. In any event, it is a tactic to divert attention from the real problems Canadians and Quebeckers are currently experiencing.
Among those problems, there is one that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Industry are being particularly silent about. I am talking about the ongoing situation in the manufacturing and forestry industries. That is what we should be debating today, not some message to the Senate on a bill we all agree on.
To me there seems to be something somewhat unhealthy about the Conservative government and the Prime Minister wanting to dramatize or show us who is boss, even though they are a minority government. They have never understood that and it is not something we should forget. In my opinion, today's debate should have been about improving the aid plan, the first small step announced by the Prime Minister. He tried to use exactly the same tactics there that he is using today and with Afghanistan.
First he tried to make the aid plan, the creation of the community development trust of $1 billion over three years—which is not very much—conditional on passing the budget, thereby blackmailing the opposition parties. We do not know what will be in the budget. It may contain other completely unacceptable items. I would not be surprised to see such items in the next budget. Making this conditional on the budget puts pressure on the opposition members. But worse yet, the people who are in need of assistance in the regions affected by this crisis in the manufacturing and forestry industries, were also being held hostage by this government.
Fortunately, because of pressure from Quebec, and the consensus among Premier Charest of Quebec and all the opposition parties in the National Assembly, namely the Parti québécois and the Action démocratique du Québec, the unions, who unanimously condemned the tactic, the business community—particularly those currently under pressure in these industries in crisis—editorial writers, a number of observers and the opposition parties here in this House, the Bloc Québécois in particular, the Prime Minister saw the light.
Last Monday, as we all know, we had the opportunity to vote on the first part of this inadequate aid plan. I want to be very clear that this means Quebec will get $216 million over three years, even though most of the jobs lost in the manufacturing sector in 2007 were lost in Quebec.
Nobody has taken a close look at the specific job loss numbers in some sectors in the Quebec regions. I believe that is true for Ontario too, and for some regions in the Atlantic provinces. It is clear that the Prime Minister's blackmail tactics were reprehensible and that the figures announced were just not enough.
We were hoping that the Prime Minister would take advantage of his meeting this weekend—not with Bonhomme Carnaval, but with the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest—to announce improvements to the plan. We were hoping that we would be here today to talk about a bill that would fix things. However, that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about Motion No. 3, and I have already said enough about that.
Nevertheless, I would like to point out that the problem with the $1 billion over three years is that it is to be distributed per capita, not on the basis of need or jobs lost. Furthermore, there is an additional basic $10 million envelope per province, regardless of whether that province is Prince Edward Island, Ontario or Quebec, which is just bizarre. I will come back to that in more detail and give some numbers. In the meantime, in case I run out of time, I want to point out that Prince Edward Island will get about $100 per resident thanks to this Conservative government initiative, while Quebec and Ontario will receive just over $25 per resident, even though 75% of the manufacturing sector is concentrated in Ontario and Quebec.
Therefore, what the government announced was not an aid package but a very broad-based economic revitalization plan. As we know, Alberta will receive its share. I do not think that anyone in the House seriously believes that Alberta, at this juncture, needs a little boost to reinvigorate its economy. Its problem is an overheated economy, which the government has encouraged. In particular, there were the tax cuts in last November's economic statement. For the time being, they are benefiting very few in the manufacturing sector but many in the oil and gas sector.
I will show just how inadequate this Conservative government's first step is and that it needs to be improved. I will simply mention a few articles that I collected here and there during the past week.
For example, last Monday, the Premier of Quebec, Mr. Charest, said:
More needs to be done, among other things, with respect to taxation,...research and development as well as assistance for older workers.
He was speaking specifically of the assistance plan that needed to be bolstered.
Mr. Benoît Pelletier, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, added that Ottawa is awash in surpluses and that the aid given to Quebec, almost $200 million, represents only 10% of amounts advanced by Quebec.
That is what is written but we know that it amounts to $216 million.
The Government of Quebec invested almost $2 billion to help the forestry and manufacturing sectors. I know that this is being debated in Quebec because some feel it is not enough. We are talking about 10% of this aid, approximately $216 million. Obviously, the financial situation of the Government of Quebec and the federal government are in no way alike. For the Government of Quebec, it is clearly not enough and there has to be more.
The following day, it was the CSN's turn to make its views known. I will read an excerpt from its press release entitled “The Prime Minister must act now and abandon his partisan interests”:
—the time for action is now. As it is, the support announced by the Prime Minister reflects neither the seriousness of the situation nor the means at his disposal. In the past four years, more than 15,000 jobs have been lost in the paper and forestry industry, and some 130 sawmills and pulp and paper plants are currently inactive, depriving 31 of 250 municipalities of their main economic activity. Thousands of families in Quebec are in crisis.
The CSN represents 300,000 workers. It is an extremely important labour congress in Quebec and is very well established in the regions. I know a thing or two about the CSN, because I served as its general secretary for eight years.
I am also very fond of my friends in the FTQ, who weighed in on February 6 in the form of a press release from FTQ president Michel Arsenault, a former head of the steelworkers' union for Canada.
Mr. Arsenault had this to say:
The fact that this government, which is literally awash in our money, with a surplus worth billions of dollars, has given up on tying its measure to the adoption of its next budget does not make the measure any more acceptable.
The despicable blackmail by the government and the Prime Minister had ended, but the president of the FTQ, which has 500,000 members in Quebec and a strong presence in the paper and forestry sector, added this: “Quebec is not getting its fair share. The sectors that are worst off are not getting their fair share—”. He was speaking in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and he said, “Abitibi-Témiscamingue is not getting its fair share”. I would add that Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is not getting its fair share, Mauricie is not getting its fair share, Gaspé is not getting its fair share, the Lower St. Lawrence is not getting its fair share, northern Lanaudière is not getting its fair share and the Outaouais is not getting its fair share. None of the regions of Quebec is getting its fair share. I will prove this in a moment. I am not finished. Unfortunately for us, groups are still having to exert pressure on this insensitive Conservative federal government.
Last Thursday, the Forest Products Association of Canada announced that it had been very affected by the crisis. It said that there were more than 12,000 jobs lost in Canada in 2007 alone, and that more than 100 mills had shut down. The association called on the federal government to intervene and introduce measures, a number of which were proposed by the Bloc Québécois, the Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I will give only one, otherwise I will run out of time, but this particular one calls for a refundable tax credit for research and development. When a business, such as a paper mill, is not generating a profit, it does not benefit from the generosity of the Conservative government, which cut taxes for businesses earning a profit, but there is still research and development to be done. If these companies, Tembec, Domtar, AbitibiBowater or whatever, continue to do research and development, they cannot benefit from refundable tax credits because they are not generating a profit. They cannot benefit from the tax cuts announced by the finance minister in the economic statement because they are not generating a profit. They need help to be able to keep investing in research and development, which is essential to innovation and competitiveness, so that once this crisis is over, they can compete in North America and throughout the world.
We have a consensus—in Quebec anyway—and I am sure that in Ontario it is the same thing. The billion dollars in aid announced by the Conservative government is definitely not enough. A lot more money than that is needed immediately and they could use the existing surplus and they know it. The surplus is not being used to help the industries, the regions and the workers who are dealing with the manufacturing crisis, because it is being put toward the federal debt. Some might think that is a good idea, but I would remind them that the Government of Canada's federal debt is the lowest of the G-7 countries. It has not been this low since 1984. Why would anyone insist on paying off their mortgage when they have just lost their job and their children are starving? That is precisely what is happening. Not only is that not enough money, but the allocation of this money defies logic and is completely unfair. Earlier I gave the example of Prince Edward Island, but I could go on.
Take Alberta for example, which represents 7.8% of manufacturing jobs. It will receive 10.4% of the aid, while Quebec, which represents 27.6% of the jobs in the manufacturing industry, will receive just 21.8%. It is essential that this be corrected and the aid allocated according to need.
I will close by reiterating the measures the Bloc Québécois is proposing. We propose investing at least $500 million in a new Technology Partnerships Canada program, with $1.5 billion as a repayable contribution for new manufacturing equipment, a forestry economy diversification fund that could very well be the $1 million from the community development trust, and $1.5 million for improving employment insurance and the older workers program. To stimulate economic activity in the municipalities—that could be saved for the budget—there could be a $1 billion increase in the excise tax transfer to the municipalities. What we are asking for right now is $3.5 billion from the $10.6 billion surplus projected for March 31. The government can do it and if it does not, it will pay the price in the next election.