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C-41: Bill Respecting Payments to a Trust Established to Provide Provinces and Territories with Funding for Community Development

Honourable senators, for the purpose of process, I also want to speak at third reading of this bill.

Honourable senators, I certainly want to voice my support in regard to what Senator Murray has just said. This bill is not focused. There is no real attempt to target the people who need it most. Actually, this bill accentuates the difficulties that exist right now from community to community, province to province, in regard to economic development.

I wish to remind honourable senators that in February 2006, the past federal government had already identified the seriousness and the crisis in the forestry industry and had put $1.5 billion in its November 2005 budget. When the current government came into power in February 2006, it cancelled that program.

Again, to increase the difficulties of the forestry sector, they negotiated — without having received from the voting process in the January election support to negotiate — a new deal with the U.S. The platform of this government in regard to softwood lumber was to maintain support through the court process for the Canadian forestry industry. Instead, a deal was negotiated on quota that removed our ability to help Canadian forestry manufacturers.

I have said that. I said that in April, May and June 2006. In this chamber, I have said exactly what we are facing now. However, the current government did not believe me. They did not follow the promise they had made as part of their political platform to the Canadians who depend on the forest industry for their livelihood. They left $1 billion in the hands of American foresters; and that $1 billion was not government funds — that was money coming directly from our manufacturing forestry sector.

It is now $2.5 billion later and we have a proposal that has no concept. It is a cop-out to deal with the problem that the government had promised to deal with in January 2006. This is a cop-out. The federal government has all the means — through Statistics Canada and Employment Insurance — to know, community by community and almost street by street in those communities, the workers who are being affected.

Instead, last night, the Minister of Finance said that it was too long a process to have a back and forth discussion between officials from the federal and provincial government to establish which communities were affected, and how many.

Honourable senators, my area of New Brunswick has an unemployment rate of over 17 per cent. Most of northern New Brunswick is at that same rate. Alberta has probably 4.5 or 4.6 per cent unemployment, and Alberta will be getting $104.3 million.

I wish to reiterate the fact that the growing crisis that has been accentuated by the current government in the forest industry by their different policies and actions is being treated very differently in regard to crises that could have — not even have, but could have — happened in different industries.

For instance, almost $754 million was granted to the auto industry in order to ensure that there would be no problem. The auto industry is not a national industry; it is a specifically regional industry, just like the aerospace industry is also very local in operation. For the textile industry, there are some companies here and there across the country, but they are very limited in comparison to what is happening in Montreal. The federal government, in order to deal with the crisis that was happening in the textile industry, put together a program for that industry — to help the workers and investors in that industry become more competitive.

Honourable senators, we were all supportive of the beef industry in Western Canada when they were facing the BSE crisis. We were supportive of Toronto when they were facing the SARS crisis. We also witnessed, in the last budget, millions of dollars invested for public transit. There is no public transit in the small, rural forestry communities. They did not get one penny from that program either.

As we are talking about the forestry industry and small towns, we will develop a national program where the biggest economic growth province, Alberta, will get $104 million, and British Columbia, which we are helping with the Olympics, will also get help with the sea port. Come on. When it is time to look at people living in Northern Ontario and northern Quebec and northern and rural New Brunswick, and a little bit in rural Western Canada, we need a national program because we do not know where these people are. We cannot find them, and it would take too much time for the provincial and federal officials to see where they are. By golly, honourable senators, give any committee of the Senate a week, and we can identify all of them.

I am not happy because of the policy direction, the lack of concept and the lack of target when it comes to certain Canadians in comparison to others. As a francophone from New Brunswick, I can certainly detect when those kinds of policies are on the horizon. We have witnessed them for a long time on many other issues.

Honourable senators, we have a phantom of a concept in this bill. There is no container, per se, because there is no trustee set up. Nothing is set up. The content is $1 billion and a spin from a government that says it is supposed to target the affected communities and workers, but the reality is that it is not addressing that.

Senator Murray says this is a slush fund, and I agree with him that it may be a slush fund for the provincial premiers because there is no concept and no real target. Most importantly, Canadians were depending on this for a future for them, their community and their industry. Bill C-41 does not provide any kind of hope for those communities.

Actually, I should correct that. It does provide hope. The hope it provides is hope for the current Prime Minister, Mr. Harper. In the next few months, he is hopeful of entering into an election campaign and into different provinces and communities and he will say to all of them, "Hey, we just allocated $1 billion, and one community will get infrastructure, and another community will get job training, and another community will get biofuels. Just ask your provincial premier because we gave them the money."

That is the way the Canadian federation has been run for the last two years. Hopefully Canadians will see through that.