Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I speak to the prebudget consultations today. First of all, we should remember that the Bloc Québécois had set six conditions for its support of the 2008 budget: an assistance plan to help workers and businesses affected by the forestry and manufacturing crisis, measures to restore dignity to seniors, the return of the education and social programs transfer to 1994-95 indexed levels, increased funding for social housing and a reversal of the Conservative government's ideological cuts, increased funding for culture, and a 180-degree turn on the environment.
You will not be surprised to hear me talk about assistance for the manufacturing sector in this House. I am the industry critic and therefore take considerable interest in this matter. The manufacturing and forestry industries are experiencing an unprecedented crisis. The committee recommended that the government implement various initiatives to help the sectors and workers affected by the crisis.
The Standing Committee on Finance therefore recommended that the government allocate $1 billion to the forestry sector. The Committee also recommended that the government allocate $1.5 billion in reimbursable contributions to allow companies to purchase new equipment. There was also the recommendation to increase the excise tax on gas to 5¢ per litre and to permanently transfer this federal tax, effective 2008-09, to all municipalities, a request made many times by Quebec municipalities.
We also want to support the workers affected by this crisis. To that end, the committee recommends that the government create an independent employment insurance fund and an assistance program for older workers. Naturally, the Bloc Québécois is disappointed that the committee did not accept its suggestion to use the surplus in the independent employment insurance fund to enhance the program.
Furthermore, the committee ignored our request to reinstate the Technology Partnerships Canada program, at a cost of $500 million. But the facts are tragic. Action must be taken; the situation is urgent.
Here are some figures. Since January 1, 2003, 148,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector. Since the Conservatives took power in 2006, 78,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector. And these numbers are just for Quebec. Since April 2005, 21,000 jobs have been lost in the forestry industry alone, which includes the related industries and services, such as transport and forestry equipment. That is just over half of the total in Canada. Since the Conservatives took power, Quebec's forestry industry has lost nearly a quarter of its jobs. In total, of the 288,000 jobs lost in Canada, 148,000, or 51%, were in Quebec.
I hardly need remind hon. members that the forestry industry is important to Quebec. Quebec has 88,000 jobs in forestry, sawmills and pulp and paper plants; 230 cities and towns depend primarily on the forestry industry, and 160 cities and towns depend exclusively on it. Nearly half the forest communities in Canada are in Quebec. The forestry industry is a key reason for settlement patterns in Quebec. We do not want people to leave our regions.
We have worked to propose solutions that we would like to see in the coming budget. They include support for businesses that want to buy new production equipment. This can take the form of a program of loans and loan guarantees to help companies modernize.
Companies that are suffering and having difficulty borrowing money on private markets must pay a risk premium, which increases the interest they pay. If companies are to compete successfully, they must buy new production equipment, which means that the government must guarantee their loans.
We also suggest a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development in industry. The federal government must provide better tax support for corporate research, development and innovation. It must expand the range of expenses that are eligible for funding, for example, by including the cost of taking out patents or training personnel to work on innovative projects.
In addition, the R&D tax credit must be made refundable so that companies can take advantage of it, even if they are at the development stage and not yet turning a profit. It can take many years to develop a new product. We need to support our businesses.
The federal government really must support research and development by cancelling the cuts to the Technology Partnerships program and increasing the program's funding instead. It must make sure that the program funds really go to the provinces so that they can distribute the funding where it is most needed.
Leading-edge sectors such as pharmaceuticals, environmental technologies, advanced materials and production technology have been left on their own. Contrary to this government's claims, the tax cut is not a cure-all. We must reintroduce an economic diversification program for forest regions.
Because I represent a resource region, I am in a position to understand the difficulties a region can experience when its primary economic activity is in jeopardy. A number of regions in Quebec are taking the full brunt of this crisis in the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
The Bloc Québécois is therefore proposing that special attention be given to the resource regions that are affected by the present forestry crisis and that desperately need to diversify their industrial base. We must therefore restore a regional economic diversification and support program for the regions that have been hit by the forestry crisis.
We must offer tax breaks for the companies operating in resource regions and support them while they grow by encouraging skilled workers to settle in the regions. We must create a program to support the development of energy and ethanol production using forest waste.
The Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec has eliminated the program specifically devoted to the regions affected by the forestry crisis. That is the laissez-faire policy adopted by the government. We saw nothing in the Speech from the Throne or in the Minister of Finance's economic statement. We must see some solutions in this budget.
On the question of revising trade laws to provide our businesses with better protection against unfair competition, we can see that as a result of the Conservative laissez-faire trade policy our businesses are being left to their own devices to deal with what is sometimes unfair competition. Canadian antidumping laws date from the Cold War era and are completely out of date in the present situation, particularly for dealing with China. It is urgent that Canadian trade laws be brought up to the same standard as in the other industrialized nations, in particular the United States and the European Union countries.
As well, despite the fact that the Standing Committee in Industry, Science and Technology unanimously recommended that it do so in its February 2007 report on the manufacturing sector, the government is not modernizing its antidumping legislation. They are completely out of date and give our businesses less protection than the laws of virtually all of the industrialized nations.
Lastly, we propose better financial support for the workers who are hit by the crisis in the manufacturing sector. We believe it is necessary to enhance the employment insurance program. We also have to make sure that we avert an exodus of workers hit by this crisis, and we have to support those of our workers aged 55 to 64 who are victims of mass layoffs.
To conclude, the Bloc Québécois is close to the grassroots; it stands with the people of Quebec; and it is trying to find solutions that will address this crisis. It seems to us that the next budget is an opportunity to deal with this, and we call on this government to take action. It is urgent, and this is the time when it must be done; the future of our communities depends on it.