Mr. Speaker, I would like to reread the motion we are debating here today. Basically, it is rather general in nature:
That this House has confidence in the economic vitality of the province of Ontario and calls upon the Government of Canada to work cooperatively with the governments of all provinces and territories to assure that the prosperity and well-being of Canadians is maintained and enhanced.
This really is just wishful thinking. I would have much preferred that by this time, an election would have been called, considering the disastrous budget presented by the Conservatives. The public could then have passed judgment on this government, which, instead of building prosperity with employers, employees and leaders, decided simply to play the non-intervention rule. They do nothing. They let the free market reign, and if that causes certain communities to fall apart, particularly in the forestry sector and in single industry towns, that is not a problem; it is how the market works.
That is the Conservatives' rule and, ultimately, the entire right-wing American model, which states that the government has no responsibility when it comes to the economy. It must simply leave the market alone and collect the surplus. They tell themselves that, in any case, this allows businesses to employ workers who cost less and, therefore, to find people who will work for lower pay.
And that is the choice that the Conservative government has made. Obviously, if the Liberals had stood in the House to vote against the budget, we would be in an election and citizens would be able to judge the government.
Today, the Liberal motion gives us an opportunity to explore the situation and to tell the public just how badly the Conservative government has shirked its responsibilities. It decided that it did not want to build prosperity and that it would leave things to the economic stakeholders. Consumerism has been encouraged as the solution to everything. But when the GST is reduced by 1%, this money is put in peoples' pockets and they are all encouraged to buy products made in China, we are not lending any credibility to our economy. Wages have gone down. Now people work in warehouses instead of factories, and they are paid $8 an hour instead of $15. The net result is an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor. This is what the Conservatives have achieved.
However, a few weeks ago on November 13, the member for Trois-Rivières, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, presented the following substantial motion:
—immediately establish a series of measures to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors hard hit by the rising dollar and increased competition from new players in the field of low-cost mass production, specifically including a program to support businesses that wish to update their production facilities, a series of investments and tax measures to support research and development in the industry, the re-establishment of an economic diversification program for forestry regions similar to the one that the Conservatives abolished, a review of the trade laws to better protect our companies against unfair competition, and better financial support of workers affected by the crisis in the manufacturing sector.
This was a substantial motion. The government could have chosen to take action and use the surpluses of the current fiscal year—today, March 31, is effectively the last day of the fiscal year—for that purpose. Nonetheless, the federal government did not want to use a considerable amount of the $10 billion surplus accumulated over the past year. These surpluses are not the result of the government's action, but come from the surplus in taxes paid by Quebec and Canadian taxpayers to the federal government. At the beginning of the year, the government knowingly set objectives too low, which is how it ended up with a $10 billion surplus.
But now, entire communities are telling us—whether in the Standing Committee on Finance or the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology or in various other sectors—that they are at the end of their rope. People from the manufacturing sector, entrepreneurs, manufacturers and exporters, labour unions, and the mayors of the communities involved have come to the Standing Committee on Finance to tell us, together and collectively, that the federal government has to go back to the drawing board.
We passed a motion to that effect in the Standing Committee on Finance. We forwarded it to the Conservative government. Last week, the Bloc Québécois suggested that an immediate payment of $7 billion out of the $10 billion surplus be made to the trust fund in order to stimulate our economy and allow a number of regions in Quebec, Ontario and other provinces to boost their economies.
The current strategy of allowing market forces to prevail has a very negative impact on settlement patterns and the development of rural communities. For this reason, the current government's practice is unacceptable. The Liberal motion at least allows us to focus on these aspects once again.
For example, the manufacturing sector is vital to Quebec. It represents 536,000 jobs with total wages of $22 billion, accounting for 17% of employment in 2005, almost 21% of earned income—almost three times as significant as in Alberta—and 90% of Quebec's international exports. Manufacturing deliveries represent 59% of Quebec's gross domestic product. That makes it a very important component of our economy.
We have seen that, in this regard, the federal government has decided to not intervene and to play the ostrich by putting its head in the sand—or rather in the oil sands—and stating that Canada's economy is generally doing well. In fact, we are selling a lot of energy abroad. However, we are no longer creating jobs in the manufacturing sector. Things are not so bad; we can continue on our merry way.
However, we are coming to realize that the systematic deconstruction of the manufacturing sectors will not be reversible if the Conservative government continues in this direction. That is why elections should have been called. I would have liked to have seen the Conservative candidates meet the voters, the factory workers, and explain to them that they preferred to allocate $10 billion of the surplus to the debt rather than using at least half, or $7 billion, to stimulate the economy.
In my riding, the forestry sector is the lifeblood of some communities. There are some very solid, strong companies that made it through the first wave of closures and believed they could survive. Today, entire communities are grappling with closures for three, four or five months of the year. People are beginning to wonder if, in the end, they will have enough employment insurance benefits, if they will have a cheque that will be enough to make ends meet and support their family.
People aged 56, 58 or 60, who cannot easily retrain for another job and who are doing their best in that respect, are watching the federal government use $10 billion from the surplus to reduce the debt. Yet, a program to help older workers, until they reach the age of 65 and become eligible for their retirement pension, would have cost $75 million, that is $75 million for one year, compared to $10 billion taken from the surplus to reduce the debt.
How can this situation be explained, other than by saying that it reflects a blind implementation of the American right wing theory? In other words, if someone is rich, it is because he deserves to be rich, it is because he developed his potential. On the other hand, if someone is not wealthy, it is because he did not work hard enough and does not do things properly. The growing gap between the rich and the poor will serve our society, and this is how things should be.
If the Conservatives continue this practice—and surely they must know this—they will never get the majority government that they want, because right now they are scaring Quebeckers and Canadians, who do not at all want this kind of right wing government, a government that has decided the state no longer has a role to play. The state no longer even has the responsibility to help generate prosperity. That responsibility is left to the market. However, as we can see, it is not working. The interests of the market and of multinational corporations are not the same as those of communities.
When we decide to go ahead in the energy sector without assessing the environmental impact, we are not helping our society, quite the contrary. And when we decide to ignore a whole sector of the economy—such as the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which are falling apart—and when, as a government, we are not doing anything about it, we are not assuming our responsibility to create conditions that will promote prosperity. That is what people will tell the Conservatives if, some day, an election is called based on these elements.
The Bloc Québécois has been warning for the past 18 months that an economic downturn was on the horizon. Let us use the tools available to us. Let us take the surplus available and make sure that the money is spent in the right places. The International Monetary Fund is telling all developed economies the same thing: ensure that money is invested in infrastructure programs; ensure that the money invested can be used for structuring activities. But just stop putting all the money toward paying down the debt.
We could have the best debt-to-GDP ratio if the GDP starts to decline as it might well do before long. If the Conservative government continues along the same course, what is happening in the United States right now will happen in Canada, and we will end up with a better ratio because of paying down the debt, the reason, however, being that the gross domestic product is lower. It would be totally absurd to get to that.
Such positions are not taken just to ensure that our manufacturing and forestry industries function, or to receive praise, as we have, from Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, or because the Forest Products Association of Canada said that the Canadian government should go back to the drawing board, but because, at the end of the day, jobs are at stake, and families rely on these jobs.
I had the opportunity last week to see the major problems already being created in the United States by the financial situation there. Families are no longer able to hold on to their houses. Loans were made based on a financial system that was left largely unregulated. The President of the United States would have us believe that control can be regained by giving a mandate to the Fed, the central bank of the U.S.A. That does not work.
Yes, our economy is stable overall and there is strong demand domestically. However, that will not be enough to counter the fact that, because of what is going on south of the border, we will be exporting less to the United States. This is apparent in all sectors where people sell products to the United States: construction, furniture manufacturing and forest product processing. In all other sectors, there are serious problems because Americans are buying less.
What should be done about this? There should be more investment in the manufacturing sector, in the forestry sector and in businesses to help them boost their productivity. The goal is not to subsidize companies' activities, but to give them a tax structure that allows them to develop products while remaining competitive. That will not happen by itself. That has not happened anywhere in the world. All successful employers have received a little help from the state to start up and move forward.
Here, the current Conservative government has a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is what happened with Technology Partnerships Canada, a program that the Liberals may have abused when it came to certain companies. Overall, however, it was a program that helped businesses create jobs. In my riding, Premier Tech, a company that provides 300 jobs in the region, employs a lot of people—technicians and researchers. Early on, the program financed new product development twice. Those were not subsidies; they were partnerships. Today, money is flowing back to the federal government thanks to that program.
Everyone thought the Conservative government should go forward with initiatives like that so that the system could keep working, but the government got stuck in its ideological approach, calling for minimal intervention and expecting the market to sort everything out. With that kind of ideology, when things start going downhill, they go downhill fast. We are now seeing the results of that in the United States. Unfortunately, that is the kind of turmoil we are now facing.
The people who came to speak to the Standing Committee on Finance were not just representing unions or the unemployed. They were industrialists from the manufacturing and forestry sectors. They were people who told us that if we did not do something, our jobs would end up being exported. Ultimately, if Canada's energy market were to decline, and we saw some ups and downs a few weeks ago, it would be an economic disaster.
Of course, then the Conservative government could have more of a reaction, because of its close ties to the oil industry. It had no reaction for the sectors currently affected, which are primarily in Quebec and Ontario. Furthermore, it is rather strange that a Minister of Finance would speak not just one, two or three times, but five to ten times to systematically destabilize Ontario's provincial government, when it would have been much better to work together.
The same thing happened with the Government of Quebec. The federal budget was brought down, and that night the Minister of Finance said, and this was repeated in the papers the following morning, that there was not enough money to give our industry a chance.
And so when it came time for the Quebec budget, measures were put in place. But imagine the things that could have been done if the federal government had used $7 billion from the surplus to kickstart the economy instead of using $10 billion to pay down the debt. And if it was not interested in doing this through federal programs, all it had to do was transfer the money to the provinces so that they could improve their programs and help their manufacturing and forestry industries.
There is no society that will not have manufactured goods. It is not a possibility. By the same token, we will continue to use forest products. However, we must develop new products and prove that we are open to being green by making quality products that respect the environment. Canadians want a sustainable approach from the government, but they have yet to see that from the Conservative government.
It is sad that we still find ourselves with a minority government. Logically, the Liberal Party should have voted against the government so that the public could make a decision about these matters. If that had been the case, we would be in the middle or at the end of an election campaign right now, and we would know what the public wanted.
The public wants the government to work on building prosperity, and not to simply look at how the economy is running without getting involved, without taking responsibility, without laying the necessary foundations to bring this about. It is essential that the Government of Canada understand that it needs to get away from the framework defined by the American right. We can see where this taking Americans. We need to learn from this and find a different approach.
That is what the opposition parties regularly say in this House. That is the point of the Liberal motion today, which says that we must recognize our ability to be prosperous, but we must also work together to achieve these results, which is not currently the case.
I also personally believe that this is a perfect example of the fact that year after year, Quebec always has to knock on the federal government's door to recover part of the taxes it pays. I hope that Quebeckers realize that sovereignty would be a much better economic and cultural development tool.
We will support the motion today, because we think that the government needs to hear the alarms sounding over here.