Leader of the Opposition
Mr. Speaker, this will be my first speech as the leader of Her Majesty's official opposition. I took some time to look back at my other maiden speech as a new member of parliament in 1994. Then as now I was very proud to be here. I am proud of my adopted province of Alberta and proud of the people of Calgary for sending me to this parliament. I want to assure everyone who is listening that as different as my role is now and as different as my riding is, I am just as proud today as I was then.
I do not have a lot of time so I want to focus instead on the issue we chose for today's supply debate, which perhaps is the most important issue that ever faces Canada, our relationship with the United States and in particular the increasingly troubled relationship we have on the trade front.
The motion makes reference to two trade disputes, in softwood lumber and in agriculture. To this I could easily add a third, energy, the issue of pipeline movement of Alaskan gas reserves to the lower 48. I could add a fourth issue, that of border restrictions, especially in light of September 11, that are influencing our trade patterns and the very real threat that we could find ourselves outside an American security perimeter.
Before I comment further on these, I will make some observations. These are industries of massive size. I spent most of the past year travelling around the country in our leadership race dealing with many communities where these are the dominant industries and issues. I do not believe the Liberal government really understands the magnitude of these industries. Entire regions depend on these industries. Millions are directly and indirectly employed.
We face in some of these trade disputes the potential wiping out of entire regional economies. This is not something from which we in urban centres will be immune. These have important and significant linkages to our more urbanized areas.
The question we must ask is why this has occurred. Why do we find ourselves victims of protectionist, isolationist and unilateralist sentiments from the United States? Why are Canadian interests being systematically ignored in Washington?
There are many reasons. Some of them do involve, in fairness, blame on the Americans and the reality of the United States' domestic political interests, this being an important election year in the United States. There is a further reality with which the House can and should deal. That is the consistent and complete inability of the present Canadian government to make our case to American authorities, to congress and especially to the Bush administration.
The reality is that the Canadian profile in Washington is all but invisible. Let us look at the Liberal record in managing our most important international relationship. I took some time to do this. I cannot share it all with members but I examined a number of political initiatives in international affairs taken by the government over the last few years. I will not go through the list, but what stuck out, what I found to be consistently missing from the list was any reference to what is obviously our most important international relationship, the one with the United States.
In the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for example, there are secretaries of state for Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific but there is none for the United States. Likewise if we look at the so-called team Canada and other business development trade initiatives that have been the centrepiece of the government's trade strategy, we see almost no attention paid to our most important bilateral trading relationship.
Let us look at the vaunted team Canada trade missions. Up to September 11, 2001, that important day, there had been 17 team Canada trade missions and only one of them had gone to the United States. There has been a second one since then. In November one went to Texas and California and an earlier one went to New England.
The government is certainly going to protest, arguing that trade exchanges with the U.S. do not need any support. What needs improvement is trade relations with other regions.
The point of the motion is that all is far from well in our trading relationship with the United States. The damage that has been caused and will be caused to Canadian workers as a result of the softwood lumber duties and to farmers as a result of agricultural subsidies shows that while these crises were brewing, the focus of our political leaders in the highest offices simply was not on these files. It was elsewhere.
If the Liberal government failed to stand up for Canada's trade interests with the United States after 1993, and this has been a consistent pattern, we have to ask why it failed to do that. In my view I think it is no secret that the principal reason is that the Prime Minister and the majority of senior Liberals who came to office in 1993 were not supportive of our trade relations, in particular our free trade arrangements with the United States. Let me quote the Prime Minister's own words on the matter of Canada-U.S. free trade. In November 1987 the Prime Minister noted his opposition to free trade by saying:
Canada has already given away all its bargaining chips: energy policy, foreign investment review agency, you name it, it's all gone.
What this deal has done in energy and in investment and what it will do in defining subsidies is to strike at the heart of the fabric of Canada. What this deal does is enshrine, in Canada, the Reagan view of government.
In September 1988 he said:
Removing the remaining trade tariffs between the U.S. and Canada, as proposed by the free trade agreement, would not improve Canadian business access to the U.S. market.
The Prime Minister went on and on. I could give quote after quote from the period 1987 to 1993.
As we approached the election in 1993, the election where he ultimately became Prime Minister, he continued to oppose free trade. He continued to oppose NAFTA which had recently been concluded. In fact, he said in February 1993 just before the election:
The North American Free Trade Agreement gave the government an opportunity to correct major flaws in the free trade agreement. A Liberal government will seek changes to the free trade agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The consequence of all this is that after the Prime Minister came to office in 1993, neither he nor his senior ministers as a whole were interested in building on the success represented by the FTA and NAFTA. While they did not actually seek to renegotiate either agreement in any serious way, they did not try to build on that success either. That is not surprising. The Prime Minister was never a free trader at heart. Having been forced to swallow the FTA and NAFTA, he decided simply to neglect the file entirely.
That has proven to be a grave mistake. There were issues left unresolved by those trade agreements. In fact, the most serious issues, the ones we are discussing today, were never, and certainly not at the time, fully integrated into the free trade agreements. This is where the problems have arisen.
Softwood lumber was one such issue and agriculture was another. Neither was addressed. The most senior leaders in Canada were simply uninterested in further trade liberalization.
If the government did not pursue or enhance North American free trade, what did it do? What it did as the team Canada record shows, the Prime Minister went back to the future. He tried to revive the failed trade diversification of the 1970s, the Trudeau government's so-called third option strategy, which did not work then and is not working now.
The problem is more serious. While neglect and a high degree of apathy have characterized the government's approach to our trading relations with the United States, downright hostility to the United States, anti-Americanism, has come to characterize other dimensions of Canadian policy.
We all remember the open meddling in U.S. domestic politics prior to the 2000 presidential election when the Prime Minister stated his preference with regard to the outcome of that election. Of course these pronouncements did not go unnoticed in the United States, just as they would not go unnoticed in Canada if American politicians made similar foolish observations about Canada's internal politics.
On January 22, 2001 David Jones, the former political counsellor at the U.S. embassy, a very wise individual, made some very frank public comments about Canada-U.S. relations and the Prime Minister's unfortunate tendency to shoot off at the lip in making domestic pronouncements. He said our Prime Minister exhibits “a tin ear for foreign affairs, especially those involving the United States”. It is no secret that this poisoned the relationship between the government and the new American administration.
A story in the National Post on May 14 summarized the situation. One senior insider quoted said:
We are obviously not players. He [the Prime Minister] is just not effective.
He went on to say in less charitable fashion that the Americans could not care less about the views of the current Prime Minister. This is particularly evident in President Bush's passivity in dealing with the softwood lumber dispute. This is important.
The former Canadian ambassador to Washington, Allan Gotlieb, recently wrote the following:
It is a sign of staggering ignorance for Canadians--
--and I would add especially our Prime Minister--
--to think that personal relations between the president and Prime Minister are not of unique importance. If a matter is on the president's personal agenda, there is a far better chance of a favourable outcome. If the president is concerned, word goes down to many hundreds of top loyal political appointees. The Canadian who is best placed by far to get an item on the president's personal agenda is our Prime Minister.... Without the Prime Minister in play, the president will not be in play.
Clearly, our Prime Minister has been unable, and in some cases unwilling, to advance Canadian interests with the Bush administration.
These problems in bilateral relations predate the 2000 elections. Since 1993 the government has pursued policies which have damaged our relationship with the United States. The government has consistently put the ideological agenda of the Prime Minister and other Liberal ministers ahead of real Canadian interests. Let me refer to just a few examples.
In 1998-99 Canada pushed for a review of NATO's deterrence strategy, even though it was made clear that NATO members, including the United States, Britain and France, were not interested in such a review.
In 1996-97 Canada aggressively pushed forward with the treaty to ban landmines without giving due consideration to U.S. concerns about the potential implications for its security forces in South Korea. What did we end up with? We ended up with a ban on landmines but one that few major landmine producers or users have signed.
For nine years the government has systematically neglected the Canadian forces and undermined our ability to contribute to peace enforcement and even peacekeeping operations, including recently our premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Most recently we have been inclined to offer knee-jerk resistance to the United States on national missile defence despite the fact that Canada is confronted by the same threats from rogue nations equipped with ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction as is the United States.
I can mention one other issue. The government has not adequately addressed the matter of security in the context of continental security. Because of the unreformed nature of our refugee determination system, we continue to be subject to unique internal security and continental security dangers.
I should say when I list all these things, it should not be surprising that when Canadian ministers suddenly show up in Washington and demand something be done about softwood duties or agriculture many high level American decision makers do not pay much attention.
The consequence of these actions is a loss of our sovereignty. I do not use our sovereignty the way the government uses the term. Sovereignty is not about putting a stick in someone's eye. Sovereignty is about real ability to exercise power, to have control, the ability to act. Under the government's watch, we have less freedom to manoeuvre than we ever had before. Instead of possessing real capability that is respected and valued by our allies, all we are left with is empty rhetoric and often the wrong rhetoric.
Where do we go from here? On this I will make a very controversial observation. When it comes to United States-Canada relations, the government has much to learn from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
I can critique his fiscal record, I can critique his social priorities and I can critique his approach to government reform and national unity, but under Mr. Mulroney, Canada-United States relations were infinitely better than they are now. The groundwork he laid particularly in matters of trade account for progress not only in his era but some of the progress that followed in the early days of this government.
Whatever Mr. Mulroney's shortcomings, whatever his mannerisms or his peculiarities may have done to irritate so many Canadians, he understood a fundamental truth. He understood that mature and intelligent Canadian leaders must share the following perspective: the United States is our closest neighbour, our best ally, our biggest customer and our most consistent friend.
Whatever else, we forget these things at our own peril. We can and do believe that we are the best country in the world, the best place to live, and we love this land, but not only does the United States have this special relationship to us, it is the world leader when it comes to freedom and democracy. We can never allow our affections for our own country to become the basis of resentment toward the United States. This realization is both the essence of our own self-interest and a moral imperative for any Canadian leader.
If the United States prospers, we prosper. If the United States hurts or is angry, we will be hurt. If it is ever broadly attacked, we will surely be destroyed. We share a continent, an economy and much else. We cannot afford the dilettantish position of some western allies and, for that matter, of successive leaders of the Liberal Party who nurture other illusions.
What do we do to put our relationship back on track with the United States? In the short term, we need to aggressively tackle the new American protectionism and international trade bodies. The ultimate objective must be to establish clear international rules that bind ourselves, the Americans and our European trading partners. My colleagues will also detail actions we need to take as well as compensation programs that need to be undertaken while we are pursuing these things.
In the longer term, new mechanisms will have to be established to avoid the problems connected with bilateral trade in such areas as softwood lumber and agriculture. We need to give some thought to some faster and more preventive dispute settlement mechanisms in order to avoid crises like the softwood lumber situation even cropping up. We need to make a priority of co-operation with the United States on trade issues we share, rather than concentrating on those that divide us.
More broadly, we also need to create a positive bilateral environment that enables us to do more together. In that regard, because security and diplomatic issues cannot be divorced from economic matters, we must re-establish political credibility internationally and especially in the United States. We must realize that we will be totally unable to accomplish any of our goals with regard to fair and rules based trade settlement bodies without the support of the U.S. administration. We will be unable to get the U.S. administration on board unless whoever is in the White House and leading members of congress value and respect what our Prime Minister brings to the table.
This means that we need to begin by putting our own internal security house in order. We also need to make serious efforts to construct and invest in a foreign and defence policy that will give Canada effective capability commensurate with that of a G-8 nation and an effective voice overseas.
Forward movement in Canada-U.S. relations is the best way to ensure that our bilateral relations do not stagnate or suffer setbacks due to emerging irritants. This should have been clear in 1993. The work should have begun then. It did not. We are now living with the consequences in our key trading sectors.
I submit that the House can no longer have confidence in the government's management of our international trading relationship and our overall relations with the United States. Canadians require a new approach that will truly protect their interests and secure their prosperity and livelihood as well as their nation's sovereignty. That cannot occur under this government. For these reasons, I urge the House to adopt the motion before it today.