Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain.
I would like to remind the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands of one of his speeches concerning income splitting relating to the settlement of the softwood lumber crisis two years ago. It is a bit of an embarrassment to bring that up now, because at that time $23,000 was allocated to provinces that did not really need it, and provinces where workers were really badly hit by the crisis received only $2,300 per lost job. That was highly discriminatory.
Today the Bloc Québécois is presenting a motion in reaction to the planned assistance to the forestry industry. This wishy washy and mediocre plan for $170 million announced in the 2009 budget is spread over two years and is for all of Canada. It is intended as assistance to a forestry sector that is in crisis and one that is, let us not lose sight of this, mostly in Quebec and the eastern part of the country. This amount is laughable and clearly inadequate. It does not in any way correspond to the industry's needs. It will just melt away like snow on a sunny day before it can do any good. This is far from being my personal view of the situation, or even that of the Bloc Québécois.
The vice-president of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue regional conference of elected officials, the mayor of a municipality affected by the forestry crisis, made the following comments the day after the budget:
We thought there would be plenty of money to help the forestry industry. But, with $170 million for all of Canada, Abitibi-Témiscamingue will not get more than a few crumbs to help the forestry industry, which has experienced many job losses.
In fact, all that this assistance is doing is prolonging programs that had already proven unattainable and unworkable as far as counteracting the effects of the softwood lumber crisis is concerned, programs that this government had not managed to adapt in the past and seems still unable to adapt. It seems there is a lack of understanding on the part of the Conservative Party as far as the present forestry crisis is concerned, since it has not managed to learn from its mistakes in order to correct them at last, even partially, in order to make it better suited to meeting the needs of the industry in this time of crisis.
The softwood lumber industry has been going through major difficulties for a number of years now. It has had to cope with the imposition of antidumping duties and countervailing duties by the US, coupled with rising energy and raw material costs, and in particular with the higher rate of exchange of the Canadian dollar.
Today, with the economic slowdown in the States, the number of construction starts has fallen, causing a drop in demand for wood products. As sawmills supply the pulp and paper industry with wood chips, the drop in sales of softwood lumber means fewer wood chips. Second, third and fourth stage processing industries are also closing their doors, industries like pulp and paper, particle board, wall panelling, cogeneration plants, transport companies and forestry companies with many of their specialty suppliers.
We can only criticize the current government's lack of foresight and point to the lack of courage on the part of the Quebec members, who have been incapable of suggesting ways that might revive the industry. This obvious lack of courage has highlighted the ignorance of the leaders of this party, or of this coalition, should I say, since the Liberals supported this budget.
It was not a problem for the Conservatives because at that point, when the budget was tabled, what counted was tripping up the Liberal party, the other party of the coalition, by making such an offer to the automotive industry that it could not reject the Conservative budget without attracting the wrath of Ontario voters. And by rewarding western voters with sumptuous tax credits to the oil companies, a sector still bubbling at the moment, Canada was gratified. Quite a message to Quebec and the Maritimes. Are the Conservatives so calculating that they consider these provinces negligible?
This is why the Bloc rises and proposes specific measures to meet this crisis. The forestry crisis means jobs lost for thousands of workers, with all of the human drama that entails. It also means dire consequences for other sections of the population. The impact of the forestry industry on economic and local development is crucial. The pay of forestry workers has a considerable impact on regional consumption.
In addition, other sectors, such as transport, supply and subcontracting, local businesses and services are feeling the effects of the crisis in the forestry industry. According to Service Canada, for each job lost in the forestry industry, nearly six-tenths of a job will be lost indirectly in local business.
The forestry industry is a major employer in Quebec. Forestry operations and management, primary, secondary and third stage processing of wood and research activities generate economic benefits in a number of resource regions.
Faced with the inaction and deaf ears of the federal government, the Bloc Québécois is demanding a comprehensive assistance package to support the industry and help it get over the downturn. This plan should include specific measures to ensure sustainable development, including loans and loan guarantees, refundable tax credits for research and development, policies to encourage the use of lumber in the construction and renovation of federal buildings, measures to support the production of energy and ethanol, and assistance for research into the best uses of forestry waste.
The forestry industry provides more than 6,860 jobs in Abitibi-Témiscamingue alone, as well as hundreds more in the Nord-du-Québec region. Many families in my riding are affected by this crisis, either directly or indirectly. The unfortunate recent plant closures for indeterminate periods will result in about 2,300 factory job losses in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Nord-du-Québec.
As a result of the poor economic conditions in Lebel-sur-Quévillon, a town of 3,000, Domtar closed for good its plant employing 425 people. If this figure is transposed to a city like Montreal, it is the equivalent of 550,000 lost jobs. Just imagine the economic impact. As if that were not enough, the Comtois sawmill also located in Lebel-sur-Quévillon has temporarily ceased operations, putting another 286 people out of work, or the equivalent of 300,000 jobs in Montreal. Not even Alberta or the Conservatives could stand up to that.
The difficulties in the pulp and paper industry are prompting a company like AbitibiBowater to take tens of thousands of tonnes of newsprint off the market every month because of low sales. The Tembec sawmill in Senneterre has also had to cease operations, as it announced today. The forestry industry is closed down once again for periods running from three weeks to a month. Senneterre is another forestry town that has had its share of job losses.
The forestry industry needs help right now. Not tomorrow; now. The Conservative government still has not grasped this, as can be seen in the fact that the Minister of National Revenue just suggested holding a forum to find some solutions. I would like to remind him that 400 people met in Quebec City a year and a half ago for the Summit on the Future of the Quebec Forest Sector. As the minister responsible for Canada Economic Development, he set up advisory committees before the summit and still consults them, although without proposing any solutions to the crisis.
The solutions are well known, however. As Guy Chevrette of the Québec Forest Industry Council said recently: “The troubles we are currently experiencing are a liquidity and refinancing problem. They know that”. We hear the same story at Tembec, where they say that the funds allocated in the budget may be of help in the long-term but these industries have needs right now.
Richard Fahey, the VP, communications and public affairs, at Tembec, said that the challenge they were facing was that people are looking for short-term measures to see them through the crisis.
It is imperative that we get the point across to the Minister of National Revenue and his government that the time for talking or holding a so-called forum is passed and that now is the time to act.
I would like to go over the consequences of this crisis. In my riding, heavy equipment dealers and forestry workers are seeing their income shrink, and their work weeks get shorter, that is when they can hang on to their jobs. These people have no hope of seeing this government consider giving them back, through the EI program, a portion of the money that was deliberately diverted from its original purpose.
That said, I will give the next speaker the chance to make his remarks.