House of Commons Hansard #27 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was countries.

Topics

Customs Tariff
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the hon. member was listening, or he only hears what he wants to hear, because I was not arguing that anybody be shut out. I was just saying that the terms for being in ought to be that people can try to organize a union in their country without breaking the law, without being persecuted, without ending up in the river, and without losing their jobs.

I am not talking about trying to get rid of competition. I am talking about unfair competition. Unless the member wants to maintain that there is no such thing as unfair competition, that whatever people do in order to get an edge on their competitor is okay, and that constitutes efficiency and that is always the definition of efficiency, whatever works, whatever gives one an edge in the market, then he and I just live in different moral universes.

Unfair competition is wrong. We ought to be able to get up here and make an argument about what we think constitutes unfair competition without being told that somehow we want to shut the third world out of the global economy. That is not what I am talking about at all. What I am talking about is having a global economy in which everybody respects core labour standards, the kinds of things that people everywhere in this country have said for years that they apparently uphold, except when it comes to anywhere else, when it is not in the interests of certain corporate owners, or when it can be described as inefficient.

The member said that plants have closed down in Canada because they were inefficient. They were not inefficient. Maybe there are some plants that closed down because they were inefficient, but a lot of plants have closed down because the inefficient thing that they did was that they paid people a decent living wage. That was the inefficiency. I will not stand for a description of paying people the absolute minimum as what constitutes efficiency. What the member calls efficiency, I call exploitation and I always will.

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12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments of the NDP member. I also listened with the same interest to the remarks made by the hon. member for Joliette. My colleague referred to the naivety and “jovialism” of the former federal international trade minister when dealing with the international community. For example, the minister did not demand higher tariffs for underdeveloped countries, as one would have hoped, and he also basically excluded all forms of protectionism, while our western competitors maintain some protectionist measures.

I wonder if the NDP member could comment on the statement made by the hon. member for Joliette, to the effect that the former international trade minister showed naivety and even “jovialism” in his attitude.

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not exactly sure what the member is referring to in terms of the former minister of international trade, but he speaks of naivety. I never know whether it is naivety on the part of the government when it comes to a lot of these issues or whether it is a wilful blindness on its part as to what is really going on in the global economy.

I have seen it so often that there is a kind of feigned innocence with respect to how the global economy works. We see it not just from the Minister of International Trade but also from the member from the Conservative Party who just spoke, that somehow everything is reduced to a question of efficiency and competition, as if there is never anything like exploitation and ethics; what is right and wrong. It is always reduced to some sort of economic language which conceals rather than reveals the reality of what is going on.

He is the only person I have ever seen get up and basically defend the Maquiladora corridor and say that things are coming up roses there for Mexican workers, that they have tennis courts. I guess we read different literature because from what I hear it is terrible there, particularly for Mexican woman.

Again, it is a naivety on the part of the government with respect to free trade and also on the part of others.

I am sorry if I am not fully answering the member's question but I think there is a lot of wilful naivety and blindness. In the Bible they talk about ears that will not hear and eyes that will not see. When it comes to corporate globalization there are a lot of eyes that will not see and ears that will not hear just exactly what is going on as a result of corporate globalization.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Winnipeg—Transcona on his very good remarks. I believe that we as parliamentarians have to be concerned about protecting Canadian jobs. At the same time we must ensure that we minimize the exploitation of the labour force in third world countries by multinationals.

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member's point is well taken. The whole question of outsourcing of jobs is becoming an issue in the upcoming American election. It will be interesting to see how that debate pans out in the United States.

I take the hon. member's point as a glimmer of hope on the government back benches that they understand what I am actually talking about because one would never get that idea from listening to the answers that I have received over the years from people on the front benches.

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate this morning for a variety of reasons. The first point I want to make, and the one that concerns me the most in some respects, is the haste with which the government has brought the bill forward and wants to move it through the House.

The government regards it simply as a housekeeping bill, something that can be dealt with in a morning and then we should move on to something else, and Lord knows what it might be, but something that would be equally important or maybe just something else to fill time in this place because the agenda is not stacked up very well here.

What did the bill have to be brought forward at this time? The obvious reason is that time is running out for the tariff agreement. However, why the bill had to be brought forward in this manner I find disturbing. I think that underlying the haste of the bill is concern about Canada's ability to continue to compete in the world economy.

My friend from the NDP who just spoke raised some interesting issues about labour standards. I think we are all concerned about the exploitation of labour in third world countries. It is not a very pretty sight. To a large extent, it includes the exploitation of children, the most vulnerable in our society, and women. That is something that hopefully in this country we have moved beyond. We still have a place to go to ensure that labour standards are up to what we would expect. Nevertheless, these issues seem not to be addressed.

I do not mean to move off the concern about labour standards too quickly because, as I say, it is an important issue, but there is another underlying issue that has to be of some concern. Someone mentioned the tariffs on materials and products that are no longer produced in this country, which has to be a bit of a joke. What are we protecting? If we are not producing a particular material, why is that? Maybe there is a bigger question behind it. If we were producing that particular product, why are we no longer producing it?

There is an interesting parallel to denim. About a decade ago Canada took the tariff off the importation of wool and cloth for men's suits. For some reason, and I am not really privy to all of the reasons, the manufacture of men's suits now flourishes in Canada to the point where Americans come here to buy suits produced in Canada from materials produced here. There are some happenings in the manufacturing world which may on the surface appear beyond explanation, but I think there are some rationales behind it.

Perhaps in this instance there have been some initiatives by industry to produce materials in a way which is more cost effective. There has been an investment in capital so that the industry is allowed to flourish.

As I have said, the bill wants to continue with the tariffs that are already in place for another 10 years without any investigation of the impact they may have on Canadians or whether these kinds of laws even assist Canadian business or are a detraction from it.

I become disturbed when I look at the issue of tariffs and the government's concern about the competitiveness of Canadian industry. It would seem that for the last number of years, certainly while the Prime Minister was the finance minister, a great deal of Canada's competitiveness in the world marketplace was as a result of a Canadian dollar that just kept spiralling lower and lower.

I am sure everyone would agree that simply having a weak dollar as the bulwark of our manufacturing industries is not a recipe for long term manufacturing success but that seemed to satisfy the government. The government did not seem too concerned that somehow or another the best interests of Canadians were being undermined by that low dollar. We were certainly paying higher prices for the goods we imported from elsewhere because of our low dollar, but it was felt the trade off of being able to export cheaper was good enough. The problem behind all that, of course, was that businesses started to rely on the low Canadian dollar and investment in the means of production declined. Canadians, in real terms, lost their competitive edge on the world market.

It seems to me that is the issue here. We have great concerns about Canadians' competitiveness in the world market. I chose to speak to the bill this morning because government does not seem to be addressing that concern. By attempting to move the bill through the House quickly, the government is showing a complete disregard for these very real concerns that we have.

I would like to give some examples of why I am concerned.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member is giving a great speech. I would like you to check on the number of members in the House to hear the speech. A quorum does not seem to be present. Would you check, please?

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12:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I will ask the clerk to count the members present.

And the count having been taken:

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12:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Delta—South Richmond.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the difficulty we are trying to point out is the lack of competitiveness of Canadian industries.

During our recent leadership campaign, one of the contenders for the leadership, Ms. Stronach, mentioned in her speeches that she had been talking recently with one of the major automotive companies, which her former firm had been supplying. This individual indicated to her that his company was sourcing offshore about $1 billion worth of automotive products this year, primarily from China. He also suggested to her that within two years his company would be sourcing from China something in the neighbourhood of $14 billion worth of goods.

That is a huge increase, from $1 billion to $14 billion worth of goods over a period of two years. The reality is, what does it mean to Canadians? It means that many of those products that will now be off-sourced in China will be products which previously would have been sourced in Canada or, at the very least, in North America, the U.S. or even Mexico.

When Canadian companies lose their competitive edge and global manufacturers begin sourcing products in places such as China, Canadian workers are put out of work. The direct effect of that brings into focus the issue that was raised previously by the member from the NDP about labour standards. The effect of off-sourcing this material in places like China is pressure is put on the existing suppliers in Canada to somehow to produce cheaper. Because these companies have failed to invest in methods of production as they should, they will feel the pressure to exert more and more effort from their workers or perhaps concessions in wages and benefits.

The government, by simply pushing along this tariff, by not considering the impact on national trade in Canada and by putting laws in place that will encourage investment in Canada, is basically undermining the very issues which have made our country profitable in the past.

To give some examples of that, this past year I was visited by people involved in the printing industry. One concern they had was that their write-off period for newly purchased pieces of equipment was in the neighbourhood of seven years. They pointed out that in today's age of computers and advancement of technology in many respects the equipment would be obsolete within a matter of two or three years. Although they had the ability to write down over seven years, the piece of equipment would be out the door within two or three years and would have to be replaced.

They also pointed out that, while a travesty in itself within our tax system and counterproductive to the profitability of their printing firms, they were competing with American companies which did allow the write-off of equipment much more quickly. Therefore, their main competition, American printing firms, had a decided advantage when it came to the tax structure, one which they could not enjoy.

Another issue of concern could be in the farm fishing area. I do not have any particular answers to this. However, we have some real concerns about this industry. We are concerned that it should be operating in an environmentally friendly fashion.

In that regard, the fisheries committee issued a report a while ago to which I attached a report as well. In that report I pointed out the government's failure to put appropriate regulations in place to govern the industry. That met with criticism in some quarters because the industry said that we wanted it to put regulations in place which would make it impossible for it to compete with imports from other countries. That tariff issue needs to be looked at.

This industry is closely tied to the marine environment and the marine ecosystem. If it operates with impunity from environmental standards in one part of the world, such as Chile, but is forced Canada to operate in an environmentally friendly fashion, is there a basis for protecting Canadian industry? Is the tariff in those instances justified?

I raise this point because the government, in trying to rush the bill through the House, has not looked at the big picture of how these tariffs impact on Canadian industry or even attempted to justify their existence, and it should.

The fact that the government has raised the bill just months before the tariffs expire brings to mind its failure to push on negotiations dealing with the softwood lumber crisis in Canada. We knew a couple of years ago that the softwood lumber agreement was due to expire. We were sitting on the sidelines wondering when the government would step up to the plate and address the issue. We wondered when we would to see some action on it. The matter kept being put off.

The agreement was to expire in a few months and there was great consternation in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada. Finally there was a flurry of activity on the other side of the House and some effort was made to conclude an agreement. Almost two years later, we are still without an agreement. Those issues have not been addressed.

That is no way to deal with important trade issues. This is a case in point. These tariffs are due to expire in a few months. The government has brought the bill in with great haste. It wants the bill to continue through the House, and for good reason, because there has to be some certainty with the whole issue of tariffs. Nevertheless, the bill should have been brought forward months ago, if not a year or so ago, so we could look into the impact of tariffs on Canadian industry and maybe determine whether they could be raised, lowered or even eliminated.

There has to be concern about the way the nation's business is handled. We are in a highly competitive world. I indicated the softwood lumber agreement as an example and some of the barriers that have been put up against Canadian manufactured goods.

In some countries there will be a tariff against goods manufactured in Canada, but at the same time they will accept raw logs from Canada. Then what we have is a growing sector in the Canadian forest industry in British Columbia dedicated to the exportation of raw logs. What that really means is the export of good Canadian jobs.

Over the past 10 years or so, with our lowered Canadian dollar, as low as 63¢, industry came to rely on the cheap dollar to make its way. Therefore, we have essentially lost 10 years of investment in the manufacturing sector. We should have been investing in upgrading and modernizing our manufacturing firms so we could remain competitive with our international competitors, but we did not. Now we are reduced to giving life to the notion that somehow we as Canadians are simply hewers of wood and drawers of water.

In British Columbia we see large logs rafted out to a freighter and loaded onto its the deck for shipment elsewhere in the world. The logs are then remanufactured and shipped back to Canada. That has to hurt, especially when we look at the sorry state of the economy in British Columbia and when we consider the large number of people who are unemployed who would welcome the jobs those logs represent.

In closing, we will support the bill, but we are concerned it is being rushed through the House, as it is. We are certainly concerned that the issues of tariffs and the levels of tariffs were not the topic of discussion and examination by the House, and we think they should have been.

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened quite intently to the speech just given by my colleague. At the risk of getting into a debate approaching on an argument with him, I think we have some differences of opinion perhaps on some of these issues of protectionism and labour.

I would like to make a comment, which I am sure he will be able to expand on at length to fill up the remaining seven or eight minutes that he has. The question has to do with the labour standards that are in these types of agreements where we reduce tariffs and get freer trading around the world.

I know he is familiar with the airline industry. If we look at international airlines, it really does not matter whether the flight attendants are on a Chinese airline, or an Australian airline or an African airline. They work under exactly the same working conditions on those airlines as they would on any other airline. When they get to Vancouver, they stay at the same nice hotels and they are exposed to the same excellent working conditions regardless of the airline. It is that way because it is a global market, so it has to compete on a global basis. The more we globalize things the better it is for everybody in those industries.

I know a member on the government side wants to ask a question too, so I will just leave it there, and ask my colleague for his comments.

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's observations. I agree with him that we are engaged in a global economy.

The point I was trying to make is twofold. First, labour standards are important to me, as they are to my constituents and as they are to my friend. We believe that labour, people who must earn a living like most of us did before we came here, deserves to be paid at a fair rate of remuneration for the job that is done. We should be able, in our daily lives, to prepare ourselves for a wholesome retirement as well. It is expected that those would be the fruits of our labour.

That being said, one of the difficulties with globalization is the fact that many of the products that may be sourced offshore will be products which are produced in poor conditions and with under age workers perhaps. There has to be some concern there. I guess that is really the role of the UN.

At the same time, we have to make investments in Canada in enabling our workforce to be more productive, so that we can compete on a global basis. That is the issue here for the tax system, that it encourages investment in Canada rather than offshore. I would rather see a tax system which was encouraging to Canadian companies, rather than tariffs which would prevent the importation or put artificial barriers up to protect Canadian industry.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but pay attention to the remarks from the member opposite with respect to the export of raw logs.

It seems to me that in many cases, according to the information I have, the destinations for these logs have changed significantly over the years. In years gone by, many of the raw log exports from British Columbia, for example, were destined for the Far East and to Asia because of the attraction of some of these large spruce trees with a very fine grain which were used for decorative purposes in Japan and other parts of Asia. They commanded a very rich premium in the market.

In British Columbia there are strict rules about the export of raw logs. The percentage of raw logs that is exported in raw form in terms of total production in British Columbia is somewhere around 6%. Nonetheless, it is a contentious issue in British Columbia and indeed across Canada. In fact, the federal government has the final sign-off in terms any export permits.

However, it seems to me that over the last few years the export markets have changed for raw logs out of British Columbia to Asia. Many of the raw logs now are finding their way to sawmills in the states of Washington and Oregon. I find that quite disturbing.

In fact, I have raised it with our minister on this side that it is a concern to me. I am told by IWA Canada that those raw logs are keeping five or six sawmills sustained in the states of Oregon and Washington at a time when we have many sawmills here in Canada that have shut down or where production has curtailed.

Is the member aware of that trend? Does he have any thoughts on that?

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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member across the way is accurate in what he says.

In fact, traditionally raw logs were shipped to Asia markets, Japan and elsewhere. Over the last few years and with growing frequency since the export of raw logs into the U.S. has been restricted, there has been an increase in the flow of raw logs into Washington and Oregon states.

This is especially galling to those Canadians who are losing their jobs because of these tariffs. It is an issue and I am glad the member opposite has raised that concern with the minister. It is one that should be addressed and needs to be addressed. There is no question that it is a difficult issue. However, it is one that Canada must address with some firmness and certainly with the tact that recognizes the power that the size of the American economy has over Canada.

Nevertheless, it is especially galling for British Columbians to lose their jobs and see those logs shipped across the border to provide work in Washington and Oregon states.

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March 23rd, 2004 / 12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, speaking of jobs and how the economy works, I would like to talk about the garment industry in Winnipeg and then ask a question.

The garment industry in Winnipeg employs a lot of female workers. It is a vibrant industry. We have a problem in this industry because replacement workers, for those who may quit, retire or leave the job for whatever reason, are difficult to find within Canada. As a result, Manitoba has a special sponsorship program for immigrants with skills to come into the province to fill these jobs that Canadian workers are, for some reason, unable or unwilling to fill. The way the world's economy works, businesses can be competitive but if the jobs do not go to the foreign country, quite often the foreign workers come to our country to do the work.

The NDP talked about the wages, but I did not hear too much about the garment industry wages in Winnipeg, which is where the member from Transcona comes from. I would just ask the member, is there anything in the government legislation that deals with these issues?