Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak here today, during this second hour of debate. For the benefit of those watching at home, and since we are at this stage of the debate, I would like to read Motion M-414 presented by the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should introduce a series of measures to assist businesses, communities and workers hard hit by the forestry crisis, including: (a) an economic diversification program aimed specifically at communities that depend heavily on the forest industry; (b) tax measures that encourage the development of processing activities in the region; (c) a government loan and loan guarantee program for business modernization; (d) a refundable tax credit for the research and development of new products; (e) the establishment of absolute reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions, allowing businesses to sell emission credits on an exchange; (f) a program to support the production of energy and ethanol from forest waste; (g) improvements to the employment insurance plan; and (h) an income support program for older workers.
In my speech, I will cover each of these points. With regard to the employment insurance plan, I will talk about a specific case that occurred in Charlevoix last year and serves as an excellent example. I will also show that a worker of 57 or 58 who has been laid off and is receiving employment insurance does not necessarily have an easy time finding a new job.
The forestry crisis is hitting Quebec especially hard, because of the loss of 88,000 jobs in sawmills and pulp and paper plants. More than 230 cities, towns and villages depend primarily on the forestry industry. I will also come back to each of these points. A further 160 cities, towns and villages depend exclusively on the forestry industry. Nearly half of the forest communities in Canada depend on the forestry industry, which has been a key factor in settlement patterns in Quebec.
A region such as the North Shore—the large riding of Manicouagan, which extends from Rivière Betsiamites to Blanc-Sablon, including Anticosti Island, Fermont and Schefferville—owes its development largely to the forestry industry. Forestry is a Quebec industry, because we have the forest resources. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the more forestry workers that have jobs in the forestry industry, the more the forest recedes. What the forestry industry needs is a comprehensive plan. But one gets the impression that the Conservative government cannot see the forest for the trees; it cannot see all the problems in the forestry industry.
The crisis in the manufacturing and forestry industries in Quebec is very serious. Since the Conservatives came to power, the manufacturing industry has lost 78,000 jobs, the majority of all jobs lost in Canada. Since 2005, the forestry industry—including related services such as transportation and forestry equipment—has lost 21,000 jobs, half of all the jobs lost in Canada.
When we talk about the forestry and manufacturing industries, but mainly the forestry industry, we think about the people who work in the sawmills. But beyond the sawmills there is a whole system: people work in the forest; transportation companies take timber from the forest to the sawmill for secondary or tertiary processing. Today, with modernization, paper mills use chippers to turn wood residues into pulp.
Since the Conservatives came to power, more than 25% of forestry jobs in Quebec have disappeared. Between 2004 and 2007, the forestry industry in some regions of Quebec has experienced devastation and catastrophe.
It is important to highlight these revealing figures, which date from the summer of 2007. The situation has deteriorated since then because, within the forestry industry, many sawmills have closed or cut their hours of operation.
In the Upper Laurentians region, for example, 58% of forestry jobs have been lost. In Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 38% have disappeared. In Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, in the riding of my Conservative colleague for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, 34% of forestry workers have lost their jobs. On the North Shore, where forestry gave rise to and fostered the development of the regions, 32% of jobs have been lost. In Mauricie, 29% have disappeared. These figures are from the summer of 2007. We are now coming up to the summer of 2008 and the problem has grown.
In addition, 160 cities, towns and villages—but mainly villages—rely exclusively on the forestry industry. Take for example the municipality of Rivière-Saint-Jean in my riding. The only industry we had in Rivière-Saint-Jean—I said “we had” because it is no longer in operation—was a softwood lumber mill. People from Minganie, Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Rivière-Saint-Jean, Rivière-au-Tonnerre and Sheldrake worked at the only industry in the region. Due to the softwood lumber dispute, the company was not making a profit and had to close its doors. From one day to the next, many workers—more than 100—found themselves on unemployment insurance. Today, the majority of these workers who went on employment insurance are now welfare recipients because EI benefits run out after 35 to 38 weeks, or 40 in some cases.
There was no end in sight to the problems in the forestry industry, no light at the end of the tunnel and, unfortunately, the private owner of the Rivière-Saint-Jean sawmill announced that he was not resuming operations and that his equipment was for sale. This is a hard blow for workers and their families because it demolishes their plans. These people have to pay their mortgages, their monthly power bills, their phone bills, their municipal property taxes and school board taxes. They also have to buy groceries at least once a week to feed their family.
That is the situation in Rivière-Saint-Jean and also in Rivière-Pentecôte. What I described for Rivière-Saint-Jean also applies to Rivière-Pentecôte. The sawmill that was located in Rivière-Pentecôte was the lifeblood of that community. There was a time when people who came to that municipality to settle there and work in the forestry, in the sawmill, really put down roots there. Gradually, from generation to generation, these people built homes and settled in Rivière-Pentecôte. The owner of the sawmill in Rivière-Saint-Jean also owned the sawmill in Rivière-Pentecôte. He tried his best to keep the industry going in Rivière-Pentecôte, but he had to close both sawmills.
Mr. Speaker, am I already out of time?
I wanted to talk about the Saint-Hilarion sawmill and Joseph Bergeron in Saint-Hilarion who is currently unemployed, which makes him very nervous. He is experiencing stress-related problems. He cannot sit around and play computer games. He is unemployed. He is nervous; he has received a number of fines and he has even had a small accident. At Easter he forgot to buy flowers for his girlfriend. Then there is Simon, a young man who has lost his job. His situation is similar to the example given by the hon. member who spoke earlier.
Simon lost his job and he is being told he is not entitled to employment insurance benefits. There has been a lot of back and forth in this case. Nonetheless, I took care of it and the young man managed to get his—