Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to take part in this debate which, as you know, deals with an important and complex issue.
For the benefit of the Chair and of those who are listening to us, I will mention the fundamentals of this legislation. This bill extends to June 30, 2014 those sections of the Customs Tariff that allow Canada to provide a preferential tariff for imports from WTO member states and from the least developed countries.
The fact that we are talking about the WTO, the World Trade Organization, about less developed countries and about foreign trade shows that globalization is increasingly present, whether it is through the trading and exchange of goods, contacts between parliamentarians, or global communications.
This situation impacts on the role of a sovereign government such as the Canadian government with regard to two of its main responsibilities. The first of these responsibilities is the fight against poverty that should take place on this planet, in this world, but is not conducted properly. We know that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, possibly because of this globalization. So, the fight against poverty must be a concern for this government.
There is a second responsibility and it is economic development, the development of prosperity, raising the quality of life, improving the well-being of the population, and thus encouraging a better distribution of wealth within Canada itself.
In a context like this, with respect to a bill, we can see that sometimes these two responsibilities can clash. They are not necessarily complementary, not at all.
On the one hand, we must be aware that the international war on poverty is a necessity. When we now speak not only about developing countries but also about the least developed countries, it means that we have become more subtle in our approach or analysis of the situation that exists on the international scene with regard to the balance between wealth and poverty, knowing that, as I said just now, unfortunately and for reasons that have nothing to do with the Holy Ghost, we are watching the widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor.
Thus, the situation is becoming more and more dramatic. When we talk about the least developed countries, we mean 49 countries, of which 34 are in Africa. I had the privilege and opportunity of travelling to Africa once again last month, at the invitation of the International Development Research Centre, which is an agency of CIDA, if I understand correctly. We went to Senegal for a meeting of African parliamentarians from a dozen countries. One of them—if memory serves, it was a colleague from Senegal—in his speech at the end of the deliberations reminded the assembly that, and I quote, “Africa is not poor; Africa has been impoverished”.
That being said, Africa having been impoverished—and I agree with the statement that Africa is not poor but has been impoverished—that is where Canada comes into this impoverishment and where it has an obvious moral responsibility to take the necessary steps to try to improve the situation.
The figures vary, but we know that, at the very least, there are millions of Africans whose average salary is $1 per hour, in our terms. That is one example that illustrates the unacceptable nature of the situation. This is the kind of poverty that has been growing in recent decades.
The reasons seem obvious when you are there. There are very few processing plants, yet there is an abundance of natural resources. In addition, the prices for products such as cocoa are set in Western capitals and fluctuate constantly. Accordingly, Africans end up entirely at the mercy of irresponsible decision-makers.
These people report to no one. Furthermore, they are practically unknown. It is because of market forces that we have quickly ended up with the situation described to me, in which the cost of production exceeds the sale price of certain products on the market. The situation is becoming really terrible.
Globally, there is an increasing realization that Africa is going through a type of decline. In terms of international gross national product, Africa is trailing behind. This is absolutely unacceptable, especially when we know what natural resources are available in this wonderful and captivating continent.
I had the privilege of visiting Gorée Island in Dakar. We must not forget that the development of the Americas, especially North America, was due in large part—much to our shame—to the contribution of millions upon millions of Africans who were made slaves and transported here in unspeakable and revolting conditions. America must never forget the disgraceful past that was instrumental in its current development, development which continues to the detriment and on the backs of nearly all the other continents in the world, South America and Africa in particular.
The Canadian government's first responsibility is to implement measures to fight world poverty. Its second responsibility is to promote the economic development of Canada and its people. This is where there may be conflict between these two major responsibilities. The government must do this in the current context, according to international accords and trade agreements. In my opinion, it must do this by taking measures to try as much as possible to protect jobs and help workers adapt to such economic and socio-economic upheaval.
If nothing is done, if the market is left to its own devices, we run the enormous risk of seeing the globalization of poverty, as others have already written and described. We must fight against this phenomenon.
I want to talk about what is happening just in my region. I am the member for Trois-Rivières. I can name the companies that have closed their doors since the 1970s—I was testing my memory earlier—in greater Trois-Rivières for reasons that might be attributed to globalization or international trade, since this is not a new phenomenon.
I am thinking of Associated Textile in Louiseville or Wabasso in Trois-Rivières and Shawinigan. I am thinking of Rubin and Utex in Victoriaville. I am thinking of Le Culottier in Batiscan, which was a very important jeans manufacturer. I am thinking of Fruit of the Loom, which closed its doors and had employed 600 women in its textile mill in Trois-Rivières. These are only five or six companies. This amounts easily to 4,000 to 6,000 jobs lost for reasons related to international trade.
These are not empty words. These are very concrete things that affect the lives of our fellow citizens. We must be aware of just how delicate this situation is.
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the directors of a clothing company in my region that shall remain nameless. It has been operating for over 100 years. The directors are extremely anxious about the abolition of tariffs in January 2005, particularly with regard to competition from Bangladesh and China.
If no steps are taken, all scenarios will have to be looked at. They are likely, at worst, to resort to heavy lay-offs, if not actual plant closures. This would contribute to a still larger problem; in the garment industry alone there would be 97,000 Canadian jobs affected, 75,000 in Quebec. Hon. members will have grasped the significance these matters have for Quebec. For instance, that company in my region that will be threatened if the government does nothing. The government needs to be aware of the situation, more aware than it seems to be at present, and more aware than it has been, its former Minister of International Trade in particular.
What people are calling for is preferential treatment for manufacturers over importers. Manufacturers are the ones who create added value, who create jobs, and who process raw materials. It seems that textile and garment manufacturers and importers are being put on the same footing. These are very important concepts, and the manufacturers need to receive better treatment in future.
Then there is a second suggestion I have passed on to the new Minister of International Trade, which is that the government just use common sense, while avoiding protectionism. The federal government, like all provincial and municipal governments and government agencies throughout Canada, should encourage buying domestic products. Until some other solution were found, such as a slight percentage of protection—let us call a spade a spade here—it could at least ensure that Quebec or Canadian products were purchased by institutions paid for by the taxpayer.
As for the private sector, it can decide for itself. As far as the government sector is concerned, however, public interest dictates that public funds be used to buy domestic goods and services. This must at least apply to federal institutions and all government agencies.
There are therefore some steps that need to be taken on the domestic front, but it will also be necessary to restore certain programs that were in place before the terrible battle to attain zero deficit resulted in wholesale cuts in 1994. One particular cut was to POWA, the program for older worker adjustment, which was formerly WAT, the work adjustment training program. That, moreover, was only for textile and garment industry workers.
This program was changed to serve older workers in general. It seems that back then the government cared more about the plight of these workers and businesses. There was a program, known as the WAT, designed specifically for workers in the textile and clothing industry. With the liberalization of markets, such a program should be restored to protect the interests of Canadian workers. The government must assume its responsibilities, not only in the fight against poverty at the international level, but also as regards the preservation of social peace, the protection of workers and jobs, economic development and social harmony.
It must also promote, as it did at the time, adjustment measures for workers. The business to which I was referring, whose officials came to see me, finds it all the more frustrating because in recent years it has spent huge amounts of money on manpower training to adjust to the new market reality. It has also made huge investments in more modern equipment. With the changes that are coming all this is put in jeopardy, even though that company assumed its responsibilities while taking into account its corporate interests on the one hand and the interests of its workers on the other hand.
So, as I mentioned, the government must take some measures at the domestic level. It must also do something about international assistance. Canada must do more to achieve the UN objective of 0.7% of the gross domestic product for international development assistance.
We are currently at 2.7 of 1%, or one third of the objective set. Clearly, the Canadian government could make an effort, in conjunction with other countries, to ensure that international assistance is more significant and it could take measures to also ensure that this assistance does reach those who truly need it.
The government could be a better corporate citizen of the world by signing agreements and treaties on working and living conditions, including under the aegis of the International Labour Organization. Canada has not signed some very important treaties on child labour and women's work.
With this legislation, the government is giving access to products that were made by children working under abject conditions. There are treaties dealing with this situation. Some countries have adopted a code to which the Canadian government does not adhere. These are measures that it could take to improve the situation.
Therefore, we must go in this direction. We must be aware that when we talk of globalization, it is possible to see it in a positive light, but if this continues, if globalization is driven by private interests instead of the public interest of the world, we will be talking more and more about the globalization of poverty. It is happening and will happen more and more at the expense of social solidarity in even its most minimal form. That is a very bad sign for the generations to come.