IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on the needs of textile and apparel industry workers

38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

Mr. Chair, I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to this extremely important issue tonight. I congratulate the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup for requesting this debate. This issue is really important.

Two weeks ago, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre introduced an emergency resolution about remission orders. He actually suggested a seven year extension to help the Canadian textile and clothing industries adjust. We did not have any discussions then. The government did not move. We held a debate, but in the end, no resolution was passed and no decision was made.

Today, as we know, in a very unfortunate turn of events, the Cleyn & Tinker company announced that it will close down its plant in Huntingdon, eliminating 800 jobs in a city where they are badly needed.

A moment ago, I was listening to the news, and a worker in the Cleyn & Tinker plant clearly said the government had done nothing. This is not me talking, but a worker who was venting his frustration because of the lack of government action.

Other members of the House in the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party, have been saying clearly for years that we need transition measures to help the textile and clothing industries.

As this worker told it very clearly, the government did not do anything. All of a sudden, it is waking up today, and it is announcing measures for this industry after these jobs were lost in Huntingdon. Despite all the concern about the textile and clothing industries throughout Canada and in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto—we knew there was a problem—the government waited until now to announce all of a sudden, like the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup told us, that it will do something.

They are thus announcing three different things. First, the duties on imported fibres and thread, worth up to $15 million per year, and on textile inputs for the Canadian Apparel Industry, worth up to 75 million per year, will be cancelled as of January 1, 2005.

We all know that representatives of the Textile and Apparel Industry have been coming here for months, seeking help. The Standing Committee on Finance studied the question. The Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment talked about the importance of these measures. A resolution was even passed on that subject. Today, the government is finally making this announcement, at the very last minute.

Second, in the next five years, an additional $50 million will be given to improve the effectiveness of textile production and to encourage Canadian textile companies to choose higher valued products, to serve specific niches and to increase their productivity. We are talking about $50 million in the next five years.

There are 3,900 businesses across the country. If we share this amount equally between all of them, it only gives a few hundred dollars per month for each one of them over the next five years to help them serve specific niche, chose higher valued products and increase their productivity. We are talking a few hundred dollars for an industry that is hurting and that has been calling for help for months now. We are only giving them a few hundred dollars. It might be enough to buy a little more coffee or a few pens.

(1920)

It is ridiculous to see the government rushing in to provide 3,900 businesses that are so sorely in need with a total of $50 million over the next five years. There are tens of thousands of jobs involved across the country, and the government comes up with $50 million over five years.

Recently, it was decided to extend the duty remission orders by five years. The advantages these provide to textile and apparel manufacturers will be phased out over the final three years of that period. The industry called for seven years. My colleague for Winnipeg Centre introduced a resolution several weeks ago, and it mentioned seven years.

At present, there is an extension of 24 months only, for an industry that is so much in need of support at this time. After that 24-month period, the remission orders will be phased out. That is very little.

There is not much said about these measures and they are, as my Conservative colleague has said, too little and too late. Now it is being rushed in, whereas the three other parties in this House have been calling for action to be taken, for weeks now, months even. It seems to have taken the closing of Cleyn & Tinker and the loss of 800 jobs, combined with the context of a party in a minority government position being subjected to pressures from the other three parties in this House to get the government to finally take some action.

We ought not to be surprised by this. Since the Liberal government has been in power, there have been 40,000 jobs lost in this industry. Now we are talking of an industry that is surviving with 75,000 or so workers, despite the fact that export figures are $3.5 billion.

The urgent action taken today is not a match for the challenges faced by the textile and apparel industry. There are still fears for jobs, not only in Huntingdon and Montreal, but also in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto. We know enough to expect the same inaction from this government and we know that the other three parties in this House will have to put the same pressure on this minority government if we are to see any reaction, like we did with the health care system.

A hospital was closed in my riding. Child poverty is on the increase, as is homelessness. There are crises everywhere, worsening crises, and the government is doing nothing.

In my opinion, we will continue to work on this as we do on other measures. The voters will not, however, forget the lack of action by the government, and the very limited action it has taken in panic mode today, even though they have had plenty of warning, for months and even years.

(1925)

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Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for his question.

I certainly recognize that it shows the government has not consulted for a very long time. In fact, it consults only a few people; of course, it does not consult unions or people who are knowledgeable. It does not do that kind of consultation.

Moreover, as we know very well, it has difficulty in consulting generally. On all other issues, it will maybe hold bogus consultation, but that only shows the extent to which the government is ossified and incapable of acting and consulting the right people to be able to take the right actions it has become.

I totally agree with him. It is terrible.

***
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleague from Drummond. I know that she and my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska are working very hard since the apparel and textile industry is so important for the Eastern Townships. I thus know that they recognize it and that they are fighting hard to continue protecting the interests of the workers in that industry.

When we talk about the government and all those international trade issues, everybody can see an obvious failure. It is not only with respect to the apparel and textile industry that the government is taking hasty measures and not doing the necessary negotiating or planning.

We only have to look at the softwood lumber industry, which is vital to my home province of British Columbia. For years we have been seeing inaction on the part of the government. The same is true with respect to agriculture. Today, several farming organizations made presentations to the subcommittee. It is the same problem.

The government is not acting. It is systematic. The government is ossified and, unfortunately, is unable to make decisions and plan ahead for the good of communities across the country.

***
Mr. Chair, we heard the member for Brome—Missisquoi talk about other members of the opposition just waking up to the fact that this issue was before us and that we had to deal with it. My opinion is that on three of the four corners of the House we have been awake for some time and it is only the government that has finally awoken to the fact that immediate measures need to be taken.

We talked earlier about the $50 million that will be provided to the textile and clothing apparel industries over five years. This amount of money, divided among 3,900 different companies, basically means a few hundred dollars a month for each of those companies.

I want to ask the hon. member, given today's disaster in the industry, whether he thinks the last minute measures taken by the government are even remotely appropriate.

***
Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for Shefford for his speech. It is important that we discuss this issue in the House today.

A while ago, I put a question to another member concerning the $50 million in measures over a five-year period that will actually give $200 of $300 a month to each business, everywhere in Canada. Here are the questions I wanted to ask my colleague for Shefford.

First, even if he is far removed from these issues, does he think that these funds can meet the needs of the textile and apparel industry?

In addition, in his riding of Shefford, what are the consequences of the government's disengagement for several years and of the fact that, today, it suddenly comes up with some measures?

What consequences and what repercussions does the member foresee in his riding in terms of job loss and business failures?