Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, the Bloc Québécois' new private forests critic. The Bloc Québécois is the first party to have such a critic.
The Bloc Québécois decided to dedicate this day to the fact that the forestry industry, the industry as much as the workers, has been neglected, forgotten by the federal government. Why do we have to dedicate a day to this debate? Because the federal government has decided to have a double standard. On one hand, there is the auto industry that deserves a real helping hand. The federal government decided, for example, to go ahead with loan guarantees, offering companies the opportunity to get help from the government. On the other hand, there is the forestry industry, which has been abandoned by the federal government.
During question period, we saw—and this may prove very instructive for the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec), who was saying that loan guarantees could not be used by the federal government because they are in conflict with the free trade agreements—that its own lawyers, before the London Court of International Arbitration in connection with the softwood lumber agreement, and the civil servants at Export Development Canada, EDC, are basically giving the okay to loan guarantees for the forestry industry.
Why is the government now the only party that does not want to go ahead with this measure? The Bloc Québécois' work could result in success for business if we manage to make the government understand that the tool is available, that we can move forward, that we can offer loan guarantees to prevent companies from going bankrupt, not because of mismanagement, but because the U.S. market has shrunk dramatically. We have to make the government understand that we need a transition period, perhaps six months or a year, during which companies can go forward with loan guarantees, get the money they need, keep working, and maybe even buy equipment to improve productivity. That is the purpose of the Bloc's proposal today.
We know that the softwood lumber agreement, though not great, could have been worse. We had to sign it. In the past few weeks, industry representatives and workers in my riding have reminded me that the Bloc did the right thing when it supported the agreement. Now, the industry needs another helping hand because the U.S. market has dried up.
My riding is blessed with cross-border industries in Saint-Pamphile and Daaquam that mill American timber in Canadian mills, in Quebec mills, and then resell it, mostly to the American market. Luckily, they are exempt from the softwood lumber agreement. Unfortunately, they are not getting that kind of support from Economic Development Canada. The federal government and the ministers involved seem to think that the forestry industry's time is up, but thousands of jobs depend on it, and those jobs will last. There will always be a market for wood. If Quebec and Canada fail to do what must be done in time, they will have a much smaller share of that market in the future.
This morning, the United Nations issued a reminder that one way to combat the slowing economy is to invest in silviculture. That is one of the approaches we could use. A lot of workers are out there planting trees. These people help create carbon sinks to absorb carbon, and their positive contribution will help us address climate change challenges.
The federal government, however, as is the case in so many sectors, is not sensitive to this reality. It is not doing enough to move forward on this file and it continues to view forestry as an outdated industry. It is nothing of the sort. It is an industry that definitely has a future, if the federal government moves forward on this.
There are also other measures the federal government could move forward on, primarily involving benefits that could be given to workers who lose their jobs. In a forestry community, in a municipality that depends on the forestry sector, when 25, 50 or 75 workers lose their jobs, this has a significant economic impact, an impact on their families and on the entire community. In that respect, the federal government has an excellent tool to intervene.
The Bloc Québécois is proposing the elimination of the waiting period when people qualify for employment insurance. At present, during the first two weeks of unemployment, unemployed workers receive no benefits, even though they pay into the system from the very beginning. This is an appalling feature left over from the old employment insurance system, which people paid into only after working for a few weeks. Since the Liberal reforms in 1994, people must pay into it from the very first hour, but they do not receive benefits right away.
The federal government is looking for ways to stimulate the economy. One of the best ways would be to eliminate the waiting period and give unemployed workers employment insurance benefits beginning the very first week they are unemployed, thereby allowing them to remain consumers and keep the economy going. Apart from the tax cuts we have seen in the past, if we could return the favour now to those who were the key players in tackling the deficit, we should give them back their employment insurance benefits beginning on the first day of unemployment, by eliminating the waiting period.
With this motion, the Bloc Québécois is fulfilling precisely the mandate it was given, which is to defend the interests of Quebec. There is a need to do so in various areas, and particularly in economic matters. The incomes of families affected by the economic slowdown have to be protected. In that regard, measures have to be taken to move forward. My colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques will certainly address that issue as the critic for these matters.
I would like to point out that the slowdown has been such that, in the forestry industry, the sawmills that cut wood and the paper mills have been affected. However, those who often take a hit are the woodlot owners, who are not getting paid. They have to stop cutting wood because the prices they are getting are not enough to support production. In that regard, the government could have put forward a measure to help them trough these difficult times.
This Parliament must therefore go ahead and vote for the Bloc's motion which, among other things, proposes concrete action, as we did last fall with respect to the economy in general. We were the only party to do so. For the forestry industry, we are proposing loan guarantees. I discussed that proposal at the beginning of my remarks. Loan guarantees are permitted under international agreements and the FTA. We have demonstrated this. This was further evidenced by the representations made to the courts by government lawyers.
We are also calling for the establishment of a policy to encourage the use of lumber in the construction and renovation of federal public buildings. This is a specific measure the federal government could implement, which would not cost the government more in the end and would allow it to use lumber. As with all aspects of the economic slowdown, the buying power has to be maintained. When governments decide to implement infrastructure programs, they do so to keep the economy going. Deciding to build buildings with lumber would keep the forestry economy going. That would be a meaningful benefit.
We would also like to put in place measures to support the production of energy and ethanol from forest waste. It has become evident that ethanol produced from corn can be harmful to the environment. Energy products derived from forest waste are far less harmful to the environment, produce good results and use an under-utilized resource.
Therefore, the Bloc Québécois has decided to use this day to discuss the forestry industry. This issue concerns several ridings as it directly affects employment in logging and milling, the paper industry and the entire wood processing sector throughout its territory.
In the past, in Quebec and Canada, there was a sort of social pact whereby seasonal workers in resource regions could qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. In turn, they produced goods consumed in major centres. The Liberal reform of employment insurance in the 1990s broke that pact. It has never been re-established by the federal government.
We hope that this government will take action in this period of crisis. We need innovative solutions and these must be introduced by the federal government. Today, the Bloc Québécois is presenting constructive proposals and hopes that the Conservative MPs, especially those from Quebec, are listening and will ask their government to take action.
At this juncture, Quebeckers are being told that there is help for the auto sector but that the forestry industry is being sacrificed. Many Quebec and Ontario regions find that unacceptable. Our forestry industry needs proper support equal to that received by the auto sector.
The Bloc Québécois is launching this appeal on behalf of all Quebec communities that depend on forestry.