Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has tabled a motion calling on the government to introduce eight separate measures to assist businesses, communities and workers who have been hard hit by the forestry crisis.
I would like to focus on the part of Motion No. 414 that asks the government to implement an economic diversification program aimed specifically at communities that depend heavily on the forestry industry.
That is exactly what this government has done.
On January 10, the Prime Minister announced a major new national initiative, the $1 billion community development trust, under which our government will support provincial and territorial efforts to build a stronger, more prosperous future for communities and workers hurt by current economic volatility.
In last fall's Speech from the Throne, we highlighted our commitment to help vulnerable communities and workers in Canada's key traditional industries, forestry, fisheries, manufacturing and tourism, which face significant challenges in the current global economy.
With the announcement of the community development trust, this government has made good on its commitment.
The reasons for establishing the trust are clear and compelling. Canada's economic fundamentals are strong. Overall, the national economy is well positioned for long term growth and prosperity. However, the global economy is facing increasing economic uncertainty and there will be challenging times in the years ahead.
This uncertainty means that some of our communities have become and will become vulnerable because of their dependence upon a single employer, or a particular sector might find itself under pressure because of exchange rate fluctuations or declining demand, notably in the United States.
As one of Canada's largest employers, with close to 900,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country, the forest industry provides employment in over 300 small and rural communities from coast to coast to coast.
We all know that these are difficult times for the forestry industry, workers and communities right across Canada. The industry has faced significant pressure from a higher Canadian dollar, declining housing starts south of the border and increased competition from low cost producers in Asia and South America.
Regions hit by layoffs, communities plagued by chronic high unemployment and one industry towns facing downturns are precisely the difficult circumstances that the trust has been designed to address.
As the Prime Minister noted, the trust will support job training and skills development to create new opportunities for workers who wish to move to a sector that is currently facing labour shortages.
In terms of economic diversification, the trust could be used to fund community transition plans that encourage economic development and job creation. It might include infrastructure initiatives that stimulate economic diversification.
Other economic development and diversification initiatives that the community development trust could cover include: public utility projects, industrial park development, science and technology development, access to broadband technology, and community and transportation services.
Under the terms of the three year, $1 billion trust, the federal government will provide a base amount of $10 million to each province and $3 million to each territory, with the balance of the funding allocated on a per capita basis.
The funding will be administered by the provinces and territories, as they are uniquely placed to identify the projects that best respond to community needs. The trust provides provinces and territories with the flexibility to invest in those projects that best help vulnerable communities and individuals.
At the same time, the provinces and territories must ensure that projects under consideration respect Canada's obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement.
As we all know, New Brunswick was the first province to sign onto the trust. Premier Graham noted that the recent downturn in the forest sector had hit the province hard. He welcomed the $30 million that the community development trust will provide to New Brunswick as the province looks for ways to diversify the economy and move away from the concept of one industry towns.
The government of New Brunswick has identified several measures to help move the province toward its diversification goal. It plans on supporting economic adjustment in hard-pressed communities such as Dalhousie, Bathurst and Miramichi. It will fund research and development related to the innovative uses of engineered wood, biofuels and energy efficiency. In addition, the province will be examining opportunities for supplying natural gas to northern communities in order to lower energy costs. Finally, New Brunswick has indicated it will be looking at accelerating opportunities in the mining industry.
On January 17, Saskatchewan became the second province to partner in the trust. Premier Wall noted that although the province's economy is strong, there are sectors and regions that can benefit from strategic investment from the federal government. Funding priorities under the trust identified by Saskatchewan include: biofuels and sustainable energy development; infrastructure; and support for communities impacted by layoffs in the forestry sector.
On March 11, British Columbia became the third province to sign on to the trust. Its share, $129 million, will support forestry related provincial initiatives to provide skills training and upgrading for laid-off workers. The funding will also be used to provide transition assistance to older workers and create new job opportunities in forestry dependent communities.
Just last week, on March 27, Ontario became the latest province to sign on. The community development trust will provide Ontario with $358 million to support programs that improve productivity and competitiveness, technology development, and training for workers and communities facing challenges in industries such as forestry, agriculture and manufacturing.
Today, just a few hours ago, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that they have signed an agreement to further this community development trust for Newfoundland and Labrador.
We welcome the participation of all provinces and territories in the community development trust; for it is by working together that the federal, provincial and territorial governments can best help turn the economic challenges we face today into economic opportunities tomorrow. We look forward to other provinces signing agreements too.
The trust builds on a number of measures that this government has undertaken for the forestry sector since it was elected just over two years ago.
Less than nine months into our mandate we resolved the costly and prolonged softwood lumber dispute. The agreement that we negotiated ended years of costly litigation and repaid over $5 billion Canadian in duty deposits, a significant infusion of capital for the industry that benefits communities and workers.
In addition, as part of budget 2006, we introduced a $400 million forestry assistance package to assist worker adjustment, to address the pine beetle infestation in western Canada, and to encourage the long term competitiveness of the forestry industry.
We delivered on these commitments too. The targeted initiative for older workers was originally a $70 million program. In budget 2008 we provided an additional $90 million for this program, for a total of $160 million and extended it to 2012. Cost shared with provinces and territories, this program is designed to address the needs of older workers who have lost their jobs in communities where the local economy faces ongoing unemployment or where industries such as forestry, and in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, the fishery and agriculture are affected by downsizing and closures.
At roughly the same time we announced funding of $1.275 million to address long term competitiveness in the forestry industry. The initiatives, promoting innovation and investment, expanding market opportunities, developing a national forest pest strategy and forming a human resource forest sector council, help create the environment necessary for our forestry industry to compete internationally.
Through budget 2008 we have provided $10 million over two years so that Natural Resources Canada can promote Canada's forestry sector in international markets as a model of environmental innovation and sustainability.
In conclusion, this government has supported and will continue to support the Canadian forestry industry. The actions we have taken and are continuing to take make this abundantly clear. It is clear to Canadians from coast to coast. It is clear to people working in the forestry industry from coast to coast. I believe it should be clear to the members opposite.