That, in the opinion of the House, the government should introduce a series of measures to assist businesses, communities and workers hard hit by the forestry crisis, including: (a) an economic diversification program aimed specifically at communities that depend heavily on the forest industry; (b) tax measures that encourage the development of processing activities in the region; (c) a government loan and loan guarantee program for business modernization; (d) a refundable tax credit for the research and development of new products; (e) the establishment of absolute reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions, allowing businesses to sell emission credits on an exchange; (f) a program to support the production of energy and ethanol from forest waste; (g) improvements to the employment insurance plan; and (h) an income support program for older workers.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on behalf of my party to speak to Motion No. 414, which you have read.
It is pretty clear from the wording of the motion that its purpose is to provide immediate assistance to the forest industry. For the benefit of those watching, I introduced this motion on November 22, 2007, which means that the provisions it contains were very timely at that time. The situation has continued to deteriorate dramatically ever since. I therefore call on the good faith, assumed to be a given, power of reasoning and intelligence of my colleagues in this House, who, I am sure, will give unanimous support to this motion.
I referred to the date of November 22, 2007, for a reason. Indeed, on January 10, 2008, the Conservative Prime Minister announced the establishment of a $1 billion trust to help the forestry and manufacturing industries. This is an investment over three years. The twist—and this is what sparked an outcry in Quebec—is that, in a Machiavellian subterfuge, the Prime Minister made the allocation of this money dependent on the passage of the upcoming budget. I do not know when this budget will be tabled, but the tradition and practice of this House has been that the budget be tabled about the end of February or in March.
The assistance for the forestry companies could be completely ineffective, since the fight will be over. Mills will close and it will already be too late. In the meantime, job losses have been adding up. This is why the Conservative Prime Minister's tactic or subterfuge, to make the allocation of the trust conditional on the passage of the budget, is disgusting and not good enough. This is not going unnoticed in Quebec.
Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, the riding I am honoured to represent here in the House of Commons, has been greatly affected by the forestry crisis. The mills affected have been running for several years and are cost-effective. I worked for 14 years in the pulp and paper industry for Abitibi-Price—seven years in the Saguenay region and seven years in the Quebec City area. It is true that this industry goes in cycles, but this is no longer a cycle; it is a disaster.
Last week in my riding, an AbitibiBowater sawmill in Château-Richer, and another one in Saint-Hilarion, in Charlevoix, were forced to lay off 55 workers for a 12-week period. But before the crisis, the Saint-Hilarion sawmill was running very well. A specialty paper mill in Beaupré and a newsprint mill in Clermont have also been affected.
Furthermore, last year in my riding, Kruger had to announce the closure of three of its sawmills on the North Shore, including the Jacques Beaulieu sawmill in Longue-Rive and the Forestville sawmill.
Some very effective and active companies, such as a workers' cooperative in Sacré-Coeur, Boisaco, and the associated mills in Les Bergeronnes and Haute-Côte-Nord are currently surviving the crisis, but, as the former president said, they are in desperate need of help.
The Conservative government is acting like a doctor standing at his patient’s side but with his foot on the oxygen tube. The patient needs more to survive, but the Conservative government is totally oblivious.
Of the $1 billion program that was announced, only $216 million will go to Quebec over three years. In his desire to treat all the provinces equally, the Prime Minister is giving a basic $10 million to all of them.
Even though Alberta is awash in surpluses, largely thanks to oil and natural gas, it will get $10 million to assist its forest and manufacturing industries. How many sawmills and paper mills are there in Alberta? So far as I know, there are two or three at most. So even though Alberta is drowning in surpluses, it will get $10 million.
Prince Edward Island has a population of only 123,000 but still it will get its basic $10 million plus its prorated amount depending on the population. That is way too much money for Prince Edward Island, which will scarcely know what to do with it all.
The Conservatives’ program is unfair and unjust to Quebec workers and the Quebec forest industry. In view of the magnitude of the crisis, there is a desire now on the part of both workers and industry representatives to come together and discuss the situation. When people do not think they have a huge problem on their hands, they tend to be intransigent and stick to their positions. I know something about it because I was in labour relations for 16 years. In this case, though, the union representatives from all the plants are willing to sit down with management and find a solution to the problem. However, the Conservatives’ program is totally ineffective and useless, in addition to having a timetable that extends far too long into the future.
Why do I say that the apportionment is unfair? People often criticize the Bloc and say it only complains and never makes any positive contributions. So I am going to tell the Prime Minister how the funds should have been distributed. The funding should have been based on size of the forest industry in a particular province. Quebec’s forest industry represents 32.8% of the Canadian total, and the program should logically reflect this. Quebec wants no more but no less. We are not asking for charity.
In passing, I would say that I hope everyone is aware that the billion dollars that will be paid into this trust is money that belongs to Quebeckers. The federal government is not giving us a present. It is not coming out of the pockets of the Conservative Party, stuffed with money though they are for its next election campaign. In reality it is money that belongs to the taxpayers of Quebec and Canada. Let us not imagine that the government is giving us a present.
In other words, it would have been logical if, of this billion dollars, about $328 million were to go to Quebec, given that Quebec represents 32.8% of the forestry industry in Canada.
I also referred to the fact that making this measure conditional on the budget passing is completely immoral on the part of the Conservatives.
We have noticed another phenomenon, with the Conservative pseudo-spokesman for forestry, the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. He is wandering around the regions, in Rimouski and elsewhere, saying a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for the right team. We get the impression we are back in the good old days of Duplessisism. The Conservatives are trying to make us believe that if we vote for the Conservatives, money will fall from the sky and we will be able to pick it up by the bucketful. Well, Quebeckers are not dupes. The Conservative Party is showing its true colours: it is showing its stinginess by offering this inadequate and ineffective program.
I challenge any Conservative member to come with me and meet some union representatives and company representatives. They will tell them what they think of their program. It does not pass the test. As well, the indictment of the Conservatives’ program in Quebec has been unanimous, starting with the Premier himself, Jean Charest. Mr. Charest, together with the Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, had the opportunity to denounce this program, which is ineffective and unfair to Ontario and more particularly to Quebec. Premier Charest does not have a reputation for being overly sovereignist, but he understands common sense and he realized that Quebec was being had, given what was being proposed.
Ottawa has the resources. A billion dollars is plainly inadequate. As well, we know that this government is patting itself on the back and saying it made an $11.6 billion surplus for fiscal year 2006-2007. That is $11.6 billion of our money, money that belongs to the taxpayers of Quebec and Canada. The government is collecting too many taxes for the services it provides. That is the problem. So it has the resources: $11.6 billion. The proof that this Conservative government has resources is that since the Conservatives came to power they have made military purchases totalling about $17 billion, instead of helping the forestry industry and workers. They have spent $17 billion to go and fight a war in Afghanistan, when we have no business being there, while the government is thinking seriously of extending the mission to 2011. When the time comes we will have an opportunity to talk more about that.
Mr. Speaker, you are going to say that my comments are not relevant when I refer to the war in Afghanistan, but it is completely indecent to invest $17 billion to buy military equipment and say that they do not have money to help our workers and our regions.
We could also talk about tax cuts. Every time anyone talks about the Conservatives' budget decisions, they say that they have cut taxes. We could take a look at what that means for the citizens and young families we represent and compare that to the tax cuts they gave to oil companies.
The Conservative government is offering Quebec a $216 million program over three years, while the oil industry, which, it just so happens, is concentrated in Alberta, in the west, will save $992 million thanks to the Conservative government's tax cuts. That amounts to $2.8 billion over three years. The poor oil companies will rake in 13 times more money as they carry on fleecing people in the regions by increasing the price of gas.
People in the regions,and young people in particular, have no choice but to move to larger centres, such as Quebec City and Montreal, to have access to specialized services or to study. In my region, Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, people are always on the move. The government would rather help oil companies than communities that have been deeply affected by the crisis.
I see that my time has nearly run out, but I have much more to say. If my colleagues agree, I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House to continue talking about this until noon because it is so important.
In closing, I would like to appeal to my colleagues' good will, and I hope that Motion M-414 will be adopted unanimously by all members of the House of Commons, including the Conservatives.