Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today that the Bloc Québécois proposed this motion relating to the closure of clothing and textile plants. This is a very alarming situation, and many more closures are to be expected.
As we know, the federal government was slow to react to that situation. Its assistance package is inadequate, especially for the plant workers in Huntingdon, in my riding, who have lost their jobs.
The Bloc Québécois is concerned about this situation and has worked together with local stakeholders to resolve it for the workers who have seen their plants shut down. Today, I urge the federal government to act, as I did a few weeks ago in this House.
Many textile and apparel plants have closed, and closures will continue over the next few weeks and months.
Like many ridings in Quebec, my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry was hard hit. On December 13, two plant closures were announced in Huntingdon, with 800 jobs lost. That represents 40% of all manufacturing jobs in the area. That is a huge percentage.
In Huntingdon, 30% of the population in general is living under the poverty line, and 70% of the working population is employed in plants which will be closing. These two plants were spending $25 million on wages and accounted for $600,000 annually in municipal taxes.
On February 1, the Gildan clothing company announced it was closing two plants, whose operations will be transferred to the United States. This meant the loss of 285 jobs, including 115 in Quebec. In these two cases, the workers that were laid off will have a hard time finding new jobs. Nearly half of them never graduated from high school. The 800 jobs lost in Huntingdon and the 285 at Gildan's are in addition to the disastrous 1,340 previous layoffs.
The federal government was slow to react and the measures it proposed are inadequate. The CATIP and CANtex programs have failed to prevent major closures.
All the assistance available under the CATIP has been used up. These programs are but a drop in the ocean. They do not provide enough funding to significantly improve the situation of businesses in difficulty.
On December 9, I tabled in this House a petition signed by 2,845 workers from Huntingdon, to make the federal government aware of the growing problems in our textile industry. In response to this cry of alarm from workers in my riding, no assistance was forthcoming.
On December 14, 2004, in response to pressure from the Bloc, the government announced in a hurried fashion, hastily, three measures to help the textile industry.
The most galling thing about it is that the federal government had been aware for a long time that something was afoot and it did not do anything. The Bloc Québécois had been mentioning for several months the serious threat of massive job losses in the area of textile and had been calling for the implementation of transition measures. Ottawa always turned a deaf ear to those entreaties.
The federal government slashed the employment insurance system to pieces. It terminated POWA in 1997. It accumulated huge budget surpluses, up to $9.1 billion dollars, at the expense of workers and the provinces.
It must set quotas on Chinese imports under the protocol regarding China's entry into the WTO and prevent the Canadian market from being flooded with highly competitive Chinese products.
We also need to put in place measures to encourage the use of textiles from Quebec and Canada by allowing the duty-free entry of clothes made abroad, from textiles of Canadian origin, and guarantee to local textile producers an additional market outlet for their products.
When that is consistent with international agreements, we could also adopt a buy local policy for uniforms and clothes for the government. By so doing, we would ensure stable orders to part of the industry. An international policy capable of averting low-cost offshoring should also be adopted.
Canada should enhance its negotiating position by setting an example and by signing the three core ILO agreements, ILO being the International Labour Organization, which have yet to be signed, namely Convention 29 on Forced Labour, Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining and Convention 138 on Minimum Age.
We are also asking the government to impose labelling indicating where the products came from, that is the exact place of manufacturing. This measure will have the effect of informing consumers on what they are buying. If they are better informed, they will be in a better position to make informed choices on the production methods that they find acceptable.
Assistance to textile workers who will lose their jobs must also be provided. This will be totally necessary, because some businesses will inevitably close their doors. Given the low education and the older age of workers in this sector, many of them will not be able to re-enter the workforce. They will thus need a program such as POWA, which will allow older workers to make the transition between employment insurance benefits and retirement.
The Bloc Québécois believes that Ottawa should pay the maximum amount provided by the Employment Insurance Act with respect to training and should transfer to Quebec the share to which it is entitled. The yearly shortfall for the Government of Quebec is over $200 million.
The government must put in place a program to help modernize the clothing and textile industries that will stimulate both research and development as well as creation.
The amounts that were added to CANtex last December, that is $50 million over five years, are totally inadequate. Furthermore, the money is needed now, not in five years. Thus, the government must invest more money in the short term in this program and expand its scope.
It is not too late for industries that survived NAFTA, and which will survive the WTO, to recover, provided that the government wakes up and gives them a little help now.