House of Commons Hansard #156 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for South Shore for supporting our motion today. Some of the comments that he made about the Liberal government sitting on the stump while the SLA was about to expire were questioned by the parliamentary secretary. He said that up to two years before the expiry of the SLA the government knew that there was a consensus among the provinces to let it run out. That is what it did. That is the poorest form of leadership that I could possibly imagine.

If the federal government had any idea about the consequences of letting that run out without any plan A once it did run out, it would have advised the provinces on issues of international trade as important as this. It was up to us, as the federal government, to work out details in co-operation with the provinces and the United States before it ran out. It should have told the provinces about the peril that was awaiting the expiry of the SLA. However, it did not. It sat on the stump.

Does the member for South Shore not think that the Liberal government showed a complete lack of management on this issue at the time the parliamentary secretary said that it was on the job?

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12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the management issue is an interesting one because we cannot manage an issue unless we understand it, and that has been the problem from the beginning.

I will reiterate in closing, that we cannot work on an issue unless we are willing to negotiate with the players. After over a year, only yesterday did the government finally agree to meet with all the players. It may have met with them individually, but if they were all put in a room, we might get a solution.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into the debate and to support the motion that is before us today. I think what we will find developing during the debate in the House of Commons is a surprising amount of support and unanimity for the motion.

I know these speeches are watched in Canada, but I would like to speak directly to our American friends. Two or three things are developing in Canada right now and I will highlight them for our Americans friends who may be watching.

First, they will find that all parties I believe understand and support the motion. All parties in the House of Commons know that it is in the best interests of both of our countries to have free and unfettered access to one another's markets. It is no mistake that the amount of trade that comes between the United States and Canada is the biggest trading arrangement between any two countries in the world. However our American friends probably also realize that if we just pick one province, for example Ontario, Ontario alone is the biggest trading partner with the United States.

On the issue of software lumber, there is no bigger issue in British Columbia, my province, than access to markets for our softwood lumber. It is a huge issue. Ten thousand people so far have been laid off in British Columbia with another 10,000 hanging in the balance because this issue has been allowed to deteriorate to the position it is today.

Here in the House, in the industry and among the provinces, there is unanimity at this time. This is our number one trade priority with our American friends, bar none. This is the number one trade irritant between two good, friendly trading nations. We have to deal with it and we need and ask the Americans to understand that our commitment to free trade is complete. The provinces are on side and the industry understands what is happening and it is on side.

I agree with many of the comments that have been made so far today and will be made as the day unfolds. I am none to happy that it has taken until this 11th hour to get everyone together to come to this agreement. However make no mistake about it, Canadians are united on this from coast to coast, from industry, from the provincial governments and from the stakeholders. From private woodlot owners to the House of Commons, we all recognize that this has to go ahead and has to be solved, and the sooner the better. However it cannot be solved by just shrugging our shoulders and hoping for the best. It is going to take active work.

I would argue on the American side as well to give us back an offer. We have put our offer on the table. The Prime Minister is down there today making a case for it. It is a sound offer supported, as I said, by everyone. However we need to have a commitment in return that the Americans too are committed to free trade and that they too are willing to understand the changes that have taken place.

I would like to quickly highlight some of the things that are relevant on softwood lumber. First, the meeting that took place as recently as yesterday was probably the first time that we had this degree of unanimity among all the players in the industry. Canadians, industry and everyone are totally united on this. We understand the issue well. We understand that it is the biggest trade issue affecting the nation. More important, we want our American friends to understand how serious this is to us. We are not fooling. This is not a half-hearted effort. We have done our best. We have done it in good faith. We have come together with all the partners. Now we want the Americans to respond in kind.

Second, we want our American friends, including American consumers, to wade in on this in a serious way as well. Not only is it in all our best interests, but it is also in the best interests of the American consumers that this be solved quickly and solved by March 21. If the industry has its way, and it is a special interest group in America, consumers in the United States of America will suffer. They will suffer right when they do not need it, when we are all trying to rebuild a stagnant economy in the North American market.

The Americans need access to our products and they need it now. They need to know that it will be uninterrupted for years to come in order to plan, just as we need it on this side of the border for investment and so on. They should pull out all the stops to ensure that this goes ahead by next week.

Third, we have shown our willingness in Canada to change, not because of threats necessarily from other countries, but in response to new realities. In British Columbia for example, in an effort to appease environmental concerns around the world, we brought in the toughest environmental laws anywhere in the world. In fact they are so tough that an analysis done in the last few months by specialists from the University of British Columbia has said that there are regulations that are not helping the environment; they are just there to make them look tough. They add 20% or 30% to the cost of doing business in British Columbia in the lumber industry.

We are so adamant about being the best and the toughest on environment, that we have done whatever its takes to be the best at that. We have responded to international concerns. We have made our industry not only the most productive in the world, but also the cleanest and the most environmentally sensitive. We have been most co-operative in every way we can be with all the stakeholders to ensure we do whatever we can.

For example, the British Columbia government has responded to concerns about lumber sold on crown land. It has responded with a package and a proposal on how it would change. It is a new process. The Americans should know that. It will not be the same thing next year as it was four years ago. It has changed and it will continue to evolve, but what has not changed is our commitment to free trade and to open borders from north to south.

It has been reinforced perhaps by the events of the last year, specifically September 11. In the most stable continent in the world perhaps in many ways, we need one another. We need free access to one another's borders. We need to find ways to increase that, not put impediments in the way.

Again, I urge our American friends to understand that we are on their wavelength on free trade. We hope they are on ours because we have been duly diligent at the provincial level and at the industry level.

I agree with the member for South Shore that it has taken too long to reach a consensus among all the players, but it is there finally. I thank the government for pulling that together at the 11th hour. We are united on this. We want it to go ahead, and we are prepared to ensure that we have that united stance here today, I hope, by all parties supporting the motion before the House.

Finally, I would like to offer one final thing to the Americans who may be watching the debate today, the American negotiators or whoever it might be. Although this is a stand alone issue and although softwood lumber is in and of itself being debated here today and being treated in isolation, it is difficult for us in the House to say that whatever happens, happens. We cannot be prepared to accept a deal just to get us through a crisis moment in our industries. We cannot take any deal in order to put something together. We need a deal that puts this to bed. We need a deal that shows the American commitment to free trade and unfettered access to markets. We need something that will not bring us back a year from now with a similar motion. We need a deal where we will not have to spend time trying to innovate ways to get around a softwood lumber agreement, rather we need to find ways to work within an agreement that benefits both countries.

I have seen too much energy, too much time and too much money invested by remanufacturing mills in my province and my riding to try to get around the softwood lumber agreement instead of working within the parameters of a deal that benefits both countries. It is time to put this behind us, but we need to do it in a way that respects the principles of the motion. It is time to do it for the long term.

The sooner the Americans accept our goodwill on this subject and give us a long term agreement that adheres to these principles, the better off both countries will be. I urge our friends in the United States to understand that it is in the best interests of both countries to solve this now.

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12:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, the member commented on free trade, but this is not an issue of free trade because when the agreement expired we had free trade. The problem is that the Americans are applying restrictions. They are rejecting free trade. The issue was summarized best by the member for South Shore when he said that the Americans want to impose stumpage rules and other mechanisms on Canada to jack up the price.

How do we deal with a country that wants to impose on this country unfair pricing practices? It is a matter of sovereignty. It is very difficult.

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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree it is very difficult because we are dealing with a very powerful trading partner. Suffice it to say, the free trade agreement is a rules based agreement on trade. It is obviously in the best interests of all countries, but especially a smaller country like ours dealing with a larger trading partner like the Americans.

It is important that the Americans understand that because we have a different system does not mean we have an inferior system. Most of the land in British Columbia is crown land. Crown land is not the same as communist land. It is held by the crown for the benefit of all people. It is not the same as a system driven in Cuba.

I try to reinforce the fact that changes are taking place on crown land in British Columbia. Changes have taken place that continue to evolve. However because of the way our country evolved, Americans must understand that this is land held in common for all kinds of common uses, everything from parks and recreation and multi-uses of all kinds, including a working forest.

I was a logging contractor before I got into this business so I am aware that lumber companies pay billions of dollars into provincial coffers for the right to access timber. The process is changing. The B.C. government is doing the right thing by acknowledging that change was necessary.

Just because something is on crown land does not make it a freebie. It is not. It is a very costly thing and large obligations are placed on lumber companies in British Columbia which are tasked with everything from road building, road reclamation, environmental protection, replanting and regeneration, thinning and ensuring that the working forest is growing. All of these obligations are placed on our forest companies.

It is true that we have a different system, but it is not a communist system. It is a system that has evolved because of what we call crown land and because of the evolution of our country.

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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I shall be brief. I simply want to invite the member who gave the last speech, one that I found fairly convincing, to make further arguments that would assure the House that the Liberal majority will vote in favour of the motion.

Until now, the government has defended its record and what it thought needed doing. We have not heard too many guarantees about what the Prime Minister will be do. The Minister of International Trade is somewhat shaky on his positions on the question.

Could the member add to his arguments, in order to convince the Liberal majority to vote in favour of the motion, so that it has the strength required, a motion adopted unanimously by the House of Commons. We need a motion stating that we want an agreement that will comply with the Free Trade Agreement and do so in conditions that would be beneficial for all those who made sacrifices in this struggle.

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his comments, especially because time and again I am impressed by the members of parliament from Quebec and their commitment to free trade. In many ways they have led the country with their commitment to free trade and continue to do so. I thank the member for once again pointing out the need to commit to that principle. It is sound and has a lot of leadership from the political leaders and the people of Quebec who have shown their willingness to live in a free trade, rules-based society.

We do not know what will go on in the negotiating room. This motion urges the government to commit to the principles of free trade and impress upon the Americans, at every occasion whether it is the Prime Minister or at other levels, that the House wants free trade and unfettered access to markets, as should the Americans.

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Lethbridge who has a good knowledge of this issue. He has a far better knowledge of this issue than I can say for the Liberal government. I was astounded by the comment by the member from Ancaster--Dundas when he said that the government had free trade when the SLA ran out.

I cannot imagine that the Liberal government was so oblivious to the past record of the United States on softwood lumber that it would think for a moment that there would not be challenges coming very quickly after the SLA ran out. That is the problem. There was no planning for the expiry of the SLA on behalf of the government.

It is an absolute correct statement to say that the members of the Reform Party and now the Alliance have been the pre-eminent speakers on this whole softwood lumber agreement issue. The member for Vancouver Island North has spoken in the House going back to prior to the signing of the SLA. He warned the government of the perils that awaited should the agreement be signed. He probably spoke more than 25 or 30 times in the last five years on the issue as disaster upon disaster resulted from the softwood lumber agreement. He stood in the House, as have I and many of our colleagues, and urged the government to prepare for the expiry of the softwood lumber agreement.

It is clear that the government never really got involved in this softwood lumber agreement crisis until some time in December 2000, some three months before the expiry date. Then all of a sudden it was going to waltz in and try to solve the thing. It would have been nice if it had, but the fact is it did precious little between then and the expiry date of the SLA. Since then it does not appear that the government made very much progress on it as well.

We are now faced with the free trade that we were used to in softwood lumber over the last 25 years where the United States industry through its large and powerful lobby groups would challenge the export of Canadian softwood lumber into the United States. It has quite predictably slapped a tariff and extra duties onto the Canadian softwood lumber going into the United States.

Is anybody really surprised that it has happened? Certainly not all of us in the opposition but obviously the Liberal government is surprised about it. The government did nothing for five years while it was waiting for the SLA to expire and then it hoped by some miracle that the American forest and softwood lumber industry would just let us have unfettered free trade into the United States for our softwood products.

That is the record of mismanagement of the government on the softwood lumber issue. We should not blame it too much because it simply does not understand the issue. Let us give the government some relief of blame for that.

The finance minister was out in Quesnel, B.C. about three or four weeks ago. I am told by the people in Quesnel, which is a big lumber town in north central B.C., that they almost had to smack him with a 2x4 of softwood lumber to get him to recognize that there was a problem. He said some niceties and said he would go back to Ottawa and encourage and almost demand that the Prime Minister get involved personally with President Bush and get this thing done. That was something that was not a rocket science suggestion. We have been suggesting it for a number of years.

I come from north central British Columbia, probably the softwood lumber capital of Canada and perhaps the world. To give the House an idea of the importance of softwood lumber in our region our forest companies produce about 3.9 billion board feet of lumber every single year. We have the most modern and highly technological mills in the world. We produce enough lumber to build about 475,000 single dwelling homes every year. We could produce far more than that because of the efficiency of our mills.

The housing for which we can produce lumber represents about three times the annual new housing starts in Canada. We do it every year. Our mills in northern B.C. produce about 40% of B.C.'s total softwood lumber output. That represents about 21% of Canada's total production of softwood lumber.

Needless to say, the mismanagement of the softwood lumber issue by the Liberal government has had a disastrous effect on the economy of British Columbia as a whole but in particular the area of B.C. I come from because it is so forestry dependent.

We are faced with a government that seems willing to seek a band aid approach to the softwood lumber crisis rather than fight for what we should rightfully have in Canada: free and unfettered trade in softwood lumber with the United States of America. It appears the government, having let the issue get into an absolute crisis mode, is willing to sign an agreement that would give us not free trade in softwood lumber but managed trade.

That is not what the government should do. It is not about free trade with the United States. The government has mismanaged the case. It is looking for a band aid fix. It is the same way it has managed the country for the last nine years. It has never made substantive changes. It has always preferred a band aid approach. That is not the way to run a country and it is certainly not the way to run the softwood lumber issue.

For five years our member for Vancouver Island North has constantly stood in the House and given the Liberal government every amount of assistance he could give to help it manage the softwood lumber issue. He has gone to the United States and made close associations with Americans in the industry and in government. He has talked with representatives of the American Affordable Housing Institute and the National Association of Homebuilders. He has been in touch with the industry in Canada and worked closely with it.

However the government has been so partisan minded that it has discounted every bit of good advice the hon. member for Vancouver Island North has given it. It is fair comment to say my hon. colleague from Vancouver Island has forgotten more about softwood lumber than the Liberals ever knew. The Minister for International Trade has demonstrated that in spades. So has the Prime Minister. So has the parliamentary secretary. I am sure the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has not given the issue a thought.

We are in a crisis. We need to protect the right of Canada to unfettered free trade with the United States. That is the bottom line.

The government says it is okay to have unfettered free trade in the oil and gas industry and some manufacturing sectors but for some reason it refuses to fight for it in the softwood lumber industry. This is a pure example of the federal government's attitude toward western Canada and some of the eastern provinces in which our party is under-represented from an electoral point of view.

Most disturbing of all is that ministers of the government who live in British Columbia and know the issue and its impact have been telling the government to get it done and it has not. That is typical of the Liberal government.

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12:50 p.m.

London—Fanshawe
Ontario

Liberal

Pat O'Brien Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Madam Speaker, when the hon. member's party shows it can manage its own caucus it will perhaps be in a position to offer advice about important national issues of the day including softwood lumber. However Alliance members are a long way from demonstrating they can manage their own party.

The hon. member says the government did nothing. He asks why the Prime Minister was not involved until recently. The Prime Minister of Canada has raised the issue repeatedly over the past year with President Bush at almost every opportunity.

The Minister for International Trade has been the leader in the file. He has built the strongest national consensus on how to proceed on the softwood lumber file that Canada has ever had. This was acknowledged by someone who knows far more about softwood lumber than the member who just spoke: the hon. member for Fraser Valley, his former colleague, who moved to another part of the House for reasons most Canadians know.

The member tried to portray the government as having done nothing. The reality is that there was consensus a year ago between the provinces and the federal government that the softwood lumber agreement should be allowed to run out. We did not do nothing. We were arguing for free trade which would now be in place if the United States had not taken unfair and punitive trade action. We were not naive. We knew the Americans would probably take trade action. To build a national consensus the government led by the Minister for International Trade therefore held extensive consultations with all the provinces including British Columbia.

It has been a deliberate and co-ordinated strategy. However the Alliance Party does not want to accept it because it serves their purpose to play petty partisan politics. It has gotten them nowhere in the House of Commons. It has not advanced their position politically and it does not help the important softwood lumber dispute.

Is the hon. member not at all aware that there was a co-ordinated and deliberate strategy led by the Minister for International Trade? Does he not understand that all provincial trade ministers and the industry have been extensively consulted on the issue and are in full agreement? Does he not understand that we must proceed on the two track policy of the government? Does he even understand the two track policy?

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12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, we have been giving the Liberal government advice since before 1996. We advised it not to sign the SLA. It did. We pointed out the perils that awaited it if it signed. It signed. The perils began to emerge as disasters throughout the five year period.

We told the Liberals the SLA would expire in 2001 and asked them to prepare for it. We suggested they make friendly and close alliances with large lobby groups in the United States such as the National Association of Home Builders, the American Affordable Housing Institute and whatever lobby group it could find to fight the large and powerful U.S. softwood lumber lobby. The government failed to do that.

Most importantly, we advised the government to form a friendly and close relationship with the new president of the United States. It failed to do that. It should had reacted in a more friendly and eager way when George Bush came to power. If it had formed a partnership to work co-operatively with the president we would not be having this problem.

However the Prime Minister was almost oblivious to the new president. During the U.S. election he had the audacity to say he hoped the Democrats would win. Can members imagine the stupidity of a statement like that? We are paying the price for it now.

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12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I made a comment earlier about the prime minister of Great Britain. The British prime minister is the leader of the labour party in the U.K. which correlates to the NDP in Canada. He stated to Canada's parliament that the case against free trade was misguided and, worse, unfair. I read his whole quote to the House. I pointed out that we in Saskatchewan are victims because we export our people because of socialist policies.

The hon. member for Churchill said the NDP supported free trade. My Conservative colleagues assure me the NDP vigorously opposed it. Does the hon. member for Prince George--Bulkley Valley know what the facts are? Did the NDP support the free trade agreement or not? My understanding is that it has always been opposed to it.

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12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a great answer. The record will show the NDP, otherwise known as friends of Maude Barlow, vigorously opposed the free trade agreement and still do. However it is convenient for them to support both it and our motion today. We thank them for the little deviation from their normal stand on the free trade agreement.

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1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, it is good to rise today and speak to the motion, a motion brought forward by our party and particularly by the member for Vancouver Island North who, I agree with the former speaker, has probably forgotten more about softwood lumber than many of us will ever know. He has been on top of this file for years. He has done a tremendous job for this party and for the country to do what an opposition party should do, to criticize the government for what it has not done and to bring forward alternatives. Today is an example of that.

I want to make sure that people understand the motion we are debating. It states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the principles and provisions of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, FTA, and the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, including their dispute resolution mechanisms, should be fully applied to trade in softwood lumber, and it urges the government not to accept any negotiated settlement of the current softwood lumber dispute outside of the FTA and the NAFTA unless it guarantees free and unfettered access to the U.S. market, and includes dispute resolution mechanisms capable of overriding domestic trade measures to resolve future disputes.

That indicates that mechanisms are already in place through the free trade agreements that we have. The softwood lumber agreement that was in place expired. Free trade should have been the ultimate function that kicked into place but it did not.

For a country like Canada, which has been through one trade dispute after another with the Americans on softwood lumber, not to be fully prepared for the day that agreement expired was wrong.

I had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. last June with the Canada-U.S. parliamentary group and meet with senators and lobby on this issue. We were fortunate enough to have a meeting with Secretary of Commerce Evans. We tried to let him know just exactly how important this was to Canada.

Mr. Evan's answer to us at that time was that they knew on a daily basis what was happening between Canada and the U.S. with regard to trade, that it was huge and that this was part of it, but that we were not to worry because it would be sorted out. That kind of attitude indicates to me that the Government of Canada did not do its job in letting Secretary of Commerce Evans know how serious the issue was. The government did not supply the Americans with the information they needed to understand our position so that when the SLA ceased to be in existence they could come to the table to work toward free trade.

As it turned out, a huge tax or tariff was immediately put on our lumber and it absolutely devastated the lumber industry. Some of the headlines we see about profits being down and losses being taken, as far as the companies are concerned, is one thing, but when one realizes the effect it is having on the families, the businesses and the communities right across the country, the communities that depend on softwood lumber exports and on the manufacture of the products, is something else.

Hopefully the Minister of Human Resources Development understands the implications of what is happening to the families across Canada. It has been a year now since the agreement expired and the tariffs were put in place against Canada, and the business industry has gone into a tailspin.

Some of the support that is in place for people without work is starting to dry up. As we stand here today discussing the issue, families are facing real life decisions on how they will feed their families and pay their rent. They are losing their homes and their way of life.

It is important that this issue be brought to resolution as soon as possible. It should not have gone on this long. There should have been a process put in place to end this before it started.

A couple of summers ago I had the opportunity, through invitations from the west coast forestry operations, the industry and the union, to tour the west coast. I did not know much about the practices that were put in place but they wanted to demonstrate how hard they worked as an industry to address some of the environmental concerns that have faced their industry, and there have been many. It was really educational to see the lengths to which the industry would go to protect the environment and ensure that the lumber industry was sustainable.

When an industry is in trouble and it does not have the funds to invest in proper environmental projects, those projects will suffer. This whole issue of the industry being in trouble has far reaching ramifications and through no fault of its own. It may have to backtrack. I am not saying it is but that would be one area that it would look at and say that it cannot afford to do some of the things it has been doing as far as protecting the environment because of the situation in which it finds itself. Hopefully that will not happen and we can bring the dispute to resolution very quickly.

The Prime Minister is meeting today with President Bush. Both countries have a lot to talk about but I hope the softwood lumber dispute is at the top of the list so we can get some resolution or some commitment from our American partners to come to the table and bring free trade to this industry.

This agreement was one of the largest trade agreements in the world. The lumber going across the border between Canada and the United States was unprecedented, almost in the world, as far as the value and what was needed.

The Americans do need our lumber. They do not have the supply themselves. In the interim, when we are being damaged by this situation, other countries are looking at that and taking advantage of it to seek out new markets in the United States, and they are finding them.

It is important for us to resolve this dispute quickly so we can maintain our market share or we will lose out on that as well. When we have an industry that is this huge, in so far as the trade aspect is involved, it has created on the south side of the border in the United States a huge lobby group that supports our position. The homebuilders and the Home Depot know they need our lumber. They know it is of high quality. They need it to build homes. It is better than the lumber they produce themselves and so we have a whole industry down there that is supportive of what we are doing and the position we are seeking.

We should have had that lobby lined up, onside and doing the deal for Canada long before this softwood lumber agreement expired. I heard the comment from across the way this morning that once the lumber agreement expired free trade was supposed to kick in. That is fine and that was where it was supposed to go but we are not naive enough to think that would automatically happen. We should have been ready for it. We should have been preparing ourselves, building the alliances necessary to bring our point forward and get it across in the United States.

Another issue came to light this week with the release of Statistic Canada's latest census numbers. This country is growing at a very slow rate and if we are going to maintain and create growth in the service and commercial industries, we need to find markets for our products, and that means that we will need trade agreements with the United States and the rest of the world in order for our people to create jobs and move Canada along.

We continually have situations which arise, and there are many. We could talk about agriculture, softwood lumber, potato farmers, cattle producers, tomatoes and it goes on and on. It seems that at every opportunity available we come under attack. The government and the country need to take a far more forceful attitude or position in negotiating trade deals.

We need to firm up markets for our products. We need to make sure industry is confident enough in the future of its markets and that it can invest, create the jobs and wealth that a country needs to grow.

It all comes together. The way it is shaping up right now, Canada will need to find vast markets outside of Canada to keep the growth going. We need to work on smart trade deals that do not always end up in dispute and cause harm to Canadians.

I hope we can have the support of all parties for the motion today. I think everyone in the House realizes how important it is to Canada as a whole.

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1:10 p.m.

London—Fanshawe
Ontario

Liberal

Pat O'Brien Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague from Lethbridge and I support some of the comments he made but I want to raise some questions about others.

May I remind my colleague and all Canadians that, yes, we are in a very protracted and unfair dispute on softwood lumber caused by the United States, but 46% of our national wealth of our GDP is based on exports, the vast majority of that going to the United States, and the vast majority of that trade with the United States is virtually problem-free.

We have disputes from time to time. This unfortunately has been one that, as Yogi Berra said, is déjà vu all over again. We have fought this a number of times and if necessary we will win this again at the WTO.

Does the member not recognize that it is incorrect to say that the softwood lumber deal was just allowed to run out and nothing was done, that the government somehow was not prepared? That simply is incorrect.

There were extensive consultations before the softwood lumber agreement ran out. My colleague, the Minister for International Trade, was meeting with the provinces and warning them about the potential problems we would face before the agreement ran out. The hon. minister was cobbling together the best national consensus we have ever had in this country. Some members of the opposition parties have acknowledged it today. He cobbled that consensus together and he started before the agreement ran out.

We were not naive. We knew the Americans likely would be petty and punitive once again on this issue and unfortunately they were.

Could the hon. member not acknowledge, because I know him to be a person who is pretty objective and fair in the House, that it is wrong to say that the government took no actions before the agreement ran out?

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, perhaps it would be better if I did admit to what the member is saying, but on the other hand, if what he is saying is indeed true, that they were well aware this was coming to an end, that they worked hard on trying to bring the agreement to some resolution here in Canada and utterly failed, maybe it would be better to say that they did not do anything and here we are, but to say that they worked hard at it, that they did everything they could to bring the parties together yet still it came to this position, shows that the job was not done.

The thing is that we have a whole industry and thousands and thousands of families across the country suffering. We should have known that was going to happen long before this deal transpired. If what the member has just said was happening, why are we a year later still scrapping, trying to figure this thing out and people are still being harmed day after day?

This argument has turned on them. They say they were doing their job but obviously the job they were doing was not adequate and they should have been at it maybe earlier and maybe more intensely.

It goes to the whole global issue. If we want to maintain our position as a strong, viable part of the new global world, we had better get to the trade negotiations wherever they are, in whatever venue. We must be strong and firm in negotiating long lasting trade agreements that will benefit this country.

I urge members opposite, as the governing party for now, to make sure that happens so that every industry in the country can feel comfortable in the fact that their future will be stable and they can have confidence in investing further in Canada.