Mr. Speaker, the Bloc's motion today is very important and urgent. The forestry industry in Quebec is having a hard time remaining competitive and recovering from the world economic crisis and has been for a number of years already.
The current government, under the Conservatives, committed to providing $70 million in assistance to the forestry industry, a paltry $70 million to help 825,000 workers involved directly and indirectly in the forestry industry, while it gives the automotive industry concentrated primarily in Ontario nearly $10 billion for 500,000 workers.
Quite frankly, we have to ask who are they kidding?
Let us find the solution. In my riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, there are towns such as Malartic, Val d'Or and Matagami that are holding their own now because they have fairly prosperous mines. However, other towns such as Lebel-sur-Quévillon, Senneterre, Waswanipi, Chapais and Chibougamau are one industry towns and dependent primarily on forestry.
Very close to us and part of the same region are towns and villages such as Amos, La Sarre, Ville-Marie, La Morandière, Champneuf, Barraute and Béarn where the one industry has closed.
Meanwhile, the government is happy to create phoney committees to study the reasons for the forestry industry crisis. The urgency of the situation calls not for studies but for actions focused on results. Precious time has been lost to entrepreneurs, who desperately need to find solutions which the government is unable to identify.
The auto industry, located primarily in Ontario, was set up and is maintained thanks to a whole lot subsidies. My colleague from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean knows something about this, since he was an adult at that point.
This industry receives $9.7 billion in addition to all the subsidies it got for locating. Some ten Canadian cities are affected and some 500,000 jobs are maintained in this specific sector, which represents around $19,000 per job maintained or $970 million per city involved. The figures are so simplistic that there is no need for an army of accountants at the Department of Finance.
I recall my Bloc colleague Yvan Loubier. He was finance critic and gave his little pocket calculator to the Liberal colleague, who is still in the House, and who was a minister at the time. With this calculator, my colleague managed to predict very accurately what a whole range of accountants could not. The government had surpluses, and the figures were full of mistakes and totally wrong.
Equivalently and in all fairness, the current government should have given $16 billion just to the forestry industry, including $5.25 billion to Quebec alone. Is this not a long way from the ridiculous $100 million for Quebec, which represents, if used only for the forestry industry, a mere $369 per job or the big figure of $435,000 per town or village affected? Of course, it is more accessible than the same $100 million from the communities support fund not earmarked specifically for forestry at the time. The municipalities did not have access to the treasure chest, as they had not been given the key or the combination to it.
Will it be the same this time? This is a real rebuff for Quebec. It appears as illogical as it does because it is, considering that the $9.7 billion is allocated for non renewables, to which must be added the costs of depolluting and decontaminating of an American industry.
In essence, we have contributed to the American treasury to the detriment of a clean and renewable resource, industries and towns and villages in Quebec for what amounted to $22.8 million in assistance.
That is far from the $970 million given to Ontario cities, but they think Quebec will put up with it.
I leave it to the people of Quebec to decide how good the policies of this government have been, certainly not to the government itself, which has failed to demonstrate any logic or sense of fairness in the distribution of assistance in Canada, whether in regard to the softwood lumber crisis, the mad cow crisis, equalization, GST harmonization, and many other things.
One of the most flagrant cases, which can stand for all the rest, is Lebel-sur-Quévillon. Through a slight change to the law, some assistance could have been provided under employment insurance. We had first reading. We asked for agreement to move immediately to second and third reading because there was an emergency. But the government was opposed.
We made it to second reading, but before third reading is reached, the town of Lebel-sur-Quevillon will have been emptied of its workforce and it will be more and more difficult to re-start a plant that could have been successful. It is a very modern plant that was able to produce its own energy. It had good spin-off effects for the region because it enabled the sawmills to fill a need by selling their woodchips, for example, to a pulp and paper plant. This reduced consumption of the actual primary material, softwood lumber.
The labour force could have been kept in the area, both for the new industries that were developing at the time as well as the paper plant itself and the surrounding sawmills. The town managers who wanted to acquire and operate sawmills and the paper plant were also gaining credibility. The town was diversifying its economy. It seemed to be prospering and on the right track.
Ultimately, people are beginning to realize that this government is not very different from the ones that preceded it, if only because of its propensity to say “my way or no way“. We do not really have a French expression for that, but it means basically that if the government's bills do not pass, no bills will pass. If the House does not support the government bill on young offenders, for example, there is no way we will make some progress and pass the amendment on parole after a sixth of the sentence has been served.
As I told my colleague a little while ago, we have suggested some approaches that have been recognized by other levels of government as likely to make a real contribution to helping the forest industry without being an undue burden for the government.
The government and the opposition could have cooperated as a Parliament and taken steps to keep the Canadian economy afloat in both Quebec and the rest of Canada. Apart from the oil companies and the automobile industry, not much has been done in the rest of Canada. We are seeing unemployment and social problems, therefore, now that it has been a year since plants have closed and people are not likely, at this point, to get their jobs back.