This committee, which obviously will cover the same ground as the Standing Committee on National Defence, will be a superb example of wasted time, energy and public funds, and of overlap.
This debate is even more useless in that it does not even reflect-and that was the least we could have expected-what is stated in the red book with respect to industrial conversion, an area that especially interests me as industry critic.
The red book was clear and explicit, and I quote from page 55: "The defence industries today employ directly and indirectly over 100,000 Canadians. The end of the Cold War puts at risk tens of thousands of high-tech jobs. A Liberal government will introduce a defence conversion program to help industries in transition from high-tech military production to high-tech civilian production".
But today, not a word. Not a word either in the throne speech, in the address in reply to the speech from the throne or in the defence minister's opening remarks in this special debate on Canada's defence policy. The issue of industrial conversion was entirely left out of the discourse and concerns of this government.
Most armament production industries are high-value-added manufacturing industries. This makes jobs in defence production valuable. It is therefore important to preserve theses jobs because a decline in the manufacturing industry of Canada and Quebec could be extremely detrimental to the economy.
An estimated 46,000 workers depend on armament production in Quebec. Over 32,000 of these jobs are listed in industrial fields. This is to say that industrial conversion is of particular relevance to Quebec. From 1987 to 1992, sales of weapons produced in Quebec have dropped by over 48 per cent, from $1.6 billion in 1987 to $810 million in 1992. During the same period, 11,000 jobs were lost in that industry.
The geopolitical situation, combined with a decrease in defence procurement contracts have resulted in a substantial drop in defence production, particularly in the Montreal area. Businesses associated with this kind of production are going through an extremely difficult period, and the transition does not guarantee the preservation of many jobs.
For example, the cancellation of the EH-101 helicopter contract translates into a significant shortfall for the Quebec economy. Defence companies work in very high technology sectors where costs are high. In other words, if conversion is to be achieved, it must favour civilian production with a very high added value and a very high technological content, and certainly not the manufacturing of stove pipes or common consumer goods.
If there was a real political will in this government, it could act almost immediately in two areas where industrial restructuration could be achieved in a tangible way. I mentioned earlier the helicopter deal and the government's decision to cancel production, with the support of the Bloc Quebecois. We must remember, however, the compensation suggested at that time by the Official Opposition to soften or completely avoid the negative impact of this decision. It was to transfer the scientific and technological budgets and expertise associated with the helicopter production project to the high-speed train project between Quebec City and Windsor, which has very important economic and technological benefits and the tremendous advantage of meeting a need of the civilian population, and whose technology could then be exported.
So far, the Liberal government has turned a deaf ear to this suggestion despite the statements in the red book. It took the same attitude toward the MIL Davie shipyard. This shipyard, which used to specialize in military shipbuilding, is now threatened with closure. In fact, it had to lay off 600 workers since the beginning of 1993. If nothing is done, it could be forced to close after delivering the last ship to the Canadian Navy. This shipyard has embarked on a process to convert from military to civilian production. It has started this process. In this context, in order to survive, MIL Davie must be awarded the contract to build the Magdalen Islands ferry and receive assistance in developing a new kind of multifunctional ship called smart ship.
In fact, the MIL Davie case was the subject of a unanimous consensus during Rendez-vous 93, an event held in Montreal by the private sector on September 15 and 16, 1993. Eighteen associations were gathered at this meeting on the economy, which took place at the suggestion of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, including the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Front de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec, as well as the four main labour bodies in Quebec.
During this Rendez-vous, a resolution proposed by the École polytechnique de Montréal, regarding the opening of a high-speed train line between Quebec City and Windsor, was also unanimously passed by the participants. In the same vein, I would like to mention that, last week, residents from my riding and from the Trois-Rivières region sent me a petition signed by close to 6,700 people asking for a substantial reduction of military expenditures and the reinvestment of a good part of the resulting savings in the creation of good jobs. Those 6,700 petitioners are to be added to the 5,000 who have already expressed their disagreement regarding the helicopter contract. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tenacity of all those who participated in this initiative, and I will be proud to table their petition in this House in the weeks to come.
If industrial conversion is necessary, it will be done on a case by case basis. There are already a few success stories, one of which I find particularly interesting, that is the Expro plant in the Montreal region. I want to tell you briefly about the instrument which brought about this success, namely the setting up of a manpower adjustment committee.
I am all the more pleased and comfortable to discuss this issue because I worked with these committees for 11 years in my region, when I was with the Quebec Department of Manpower. I can therefore attest to the strength and the power of these committees in a business, when their presence and their role are well understood. That strength is gained through the information, often confidential, which circulates within the committee, and is also linked to the common cause at stake and to the interest for the parties of finding common solutions to common problems.
It is very rare that a situation does not improve when employers and employees work together, are supported by governments, and are assisted by a neutral and independent third party who diagnoses the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the company and who, after the two sides have approved that diagnosis, proposes a binding work plan.
As in the case of Expro, this should be the government's preferred structure if, some day, it should decide to make good on its election promises regarding industrial conversion.
In conclusion, we have to realize that a whole sector of the high-tech manufacturing industry is in jeopardy. The economic future of Canada and Quebec is largely dependent on our ability to react positively to this structural change. The government must get its act together and clearly show its political will to take energetic and consistent measures to ensure the industrial conversion of our military businesses.