Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to address the House here today to reiterate to the Conservative government that urgent action is needed to help the forestry industry. Indeed, the crisis currently facing that industry has reached record proportions.
On March 9, 2009, I asked the government across the floor what it was waiting for to help the forestry workers in the Outaouais. The Minister of State replied by saying that he was very sensitive to the plight of workers, but that they were the victims of the global forestry situation.
Those workers need a lot more than sensitivity. We all feel for these victims of the economy. However, more than sympathy, the industry needs financial support such as loan guarantees. The Outaouais, like many other regions in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, has been hit hard by this unfortunate crisis.
On October 31, 2008, the Smurfit-Stone company closed its doors for good, laying off 218 people. That closure was absolutely devastating, considering it happened in a rural, isolated area like Portage-du-Fort. That plant in the Pontiac had been open since the 1960s and produced pulp and paper.
On April 14, the AbitibiBowater plant in Gatineau pulled one of its machines from production. That will mean a work stoppage for 50 workers. This is not the first work stoppage at this plant, which temporarily laid off 358 workers in January. And every time, people ask themselves where this government is hiding.
Another company, which was to close its doors temporarily from April 3 to 13, stayed closed longer than anticipated. The Papiers Masson plant wanted to reduce production and laid off 50 workers the first time it closed and nearly 200 employees when it closed again later.
In Thurso, which is also in the Outaouais, the Papiers Fraser plant closed temporarily to reduce its inventory. That production shutdown, which lasted eight weeks, put 300 people out of work.
In Clarendon, in the Pontiac, the Maibec plant announced the temporary closure of its shingle plant. The plant, which employed 56 workers, may resume production if market conditions pick up.
More than 7,500 jobs are at risk at AbitibiBowater alone. What is the government doing to help these workers? It is expressing its sympathies and setting up a committee.
What workers need is an action plan like the one we, the Liberals, had in 2005. It was a real plan to help the forestry industry, not a committee to drag things out. Our plan addressed key issues like allocation of loans, research assistance, new technologies, skills development and community adjustment. The Conservatives cancelled our plan when they came to power, but they have not put in place a comprehensive plan for the forestry industry.
I firmly believe that the government must help the forestry industry and the people who work in that industry. Instead of watching equipment rust, we need to help these companies get through these tough times. That is what being sensitive means. When will this government take action? When will it help forestry companies and workers?