House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has received an application for an emergency debate, under Sanding Order 52, from the hon. member for Malpeque.

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have given notice with respect to a request for an emergency debate on the activities of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board.

This is an urgent matter requiring immediate discussion based on the minister's efforts to fire the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board without cause. The CEO is the chief salesman for the board abroad, has a sound international reputation and is responsible for the sale of $6 billion worth of grains to some 70 countries.

Briefly, the issues that have occurred, which must be addressed on an emergency basis, are the following. The minister has compromised the reputation of the Canadian Wheat Board by his action of November 29 in issuing a preliminary letter on the firing of the CEO and president of the board. This has been done without cause and sends a signal internationally that the Government of Canada no longer has confidence in the board. However, members of the board of directors have sent a letter to the government saying that they do have confidence in that chief executive officer. In fact, he was recently reappointed to the position.

This matter must be addressed in the House by the government and it must explain itself fully in the course of debate. The action of the minister, coupled with previous actions in dismissing members of the board of directors, of utilizing, in an extraordinary manner, orders in council to prevent the Canadian Wheat Board from representing itself, the unprecedented interference by the minister in the process of the Wheat Board's election of directors and the growing opposition to these undemocratic processes, require the House to pronounce itself immediately.

Mr. Speaker, as I said a moment ago, members of the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board sent a letter to the government expressing their support for the CEO. Our international reputation is at stake, our farmers' livelihoods are at stake and in fact the very principles of a democratic country are at stake in terms of the minister's action with regard to this issue.

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I note that the member made a request for an emergency debate in respect of the Canadian Wheat Board in October and I did refuse it at that time. I will take the hon. member's submissions into consideration and get back to the House in due course with a decision on this matter. I thank him for his submission today.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

December 5th, 2006 / 10:15 a.m.

Vancouver Kingsway
B.C.

Conservative

David Emerson Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

moved that Bill C-24, An Act to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and a charge on refunds of certain duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize certain payments, to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other Acts as a consequence, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, judging by last night's 12 votes on softwood lumber related matters, all members of this House are starting to suffer a little bit of softwood lumber fatigue. Hopefully, they are beginning to understand the kind of fatigue that the softwood lumber industry is experiencing after the better part of two decades of protectionist attacks and trade disputes dealing with softwood lumber.

It is a great pleasure for me to rise in the House today to begin deliberations on third reading of Bill C-24, an act to implement Canada's commitments under the softwood lumber agreement. Once again, I ask that all members of the House support this bill.

To begin, I would like to thank all members of the House and particularly those members of the House Standing Committee on International Trade for their close study of the bill and their proposed amendments.

Much has happened since this bill was first introduced in the House on September 20. On October 12, the softwood lumber agreement officially came into force. Three weeks after that Export Development Canada commenced refunds of duties to sawmills and producers in many of the more than 300 communities in Canada that are dependent on the forest industry.

This has been a much needed infusion of cash for this sector at a time of very weak lumber markets. Thanks to the accelerated process we developed through Export Development Canada, over 93% of lumber companies participating in the accelerated refund mechanism have now received their refunds.

That is more than $3 billion disbursed ahead of schedule and Export Development Canada will clean up the balance of those refunds in the next few weeks. Considering what this money represents for forestry workers and communities, this is a critical period because this industry is facing some very tough times. Lumber prices are in a cyclical low as a result of weaknesses in the U.S. housing market. Energy costs are up and the exchange rate advantage enjoyed a few years ago has now been erased by the strong Canadian dollar.

Cash provided by the agreement will help lumber producers reinvest in their enterprises, improving efficiency and helping to weather that downturn in lumber prices. What is more important, it will let them do so in a more stable, more predictable trade environment, an environment where the rules are clear and where for the first time in years we are not dragging the dead weight of litigation and the crippling attacks of U.S. protectionists.

We cannot overestimate the importance of a stable environment to our lumber industry and now Canadian companies are investing again. They are buying U.S. companies. They are investing in technology. They are assuming the mantle of global leadership in an industry where Canada has historically been a world leader.

What do I mean by stability and certainty? We are talking about seven to nine years, the life of this agreement, during which Canadian forest policies are going to be protected from further protectionist attacks by U.S. interests. If there is a moratorium on trade actions, it would give our industry a sustained period to begin to rebuild and to plan their future.

We have an agreement which provides mechanisms for improving and strengthening the trade framework. We will be improving it through improved operating rules. There is an opportunity to examine exit ramps for further regions in Canada to come out from under some of the remaining restrictions in the softwood lumber agreement.

We have a provision for an examination of the coastal industry in British Columbia which, as members will know, has been in decline for 10 to 15 years now. We will now work with the province of B.C., with the industry, and with our U.S. counterparts to ensure that the softwood lumber agreement evolves and provincial policy and Canadian policy evolves in such a way as to breathe new life into the coastal industry in British Columbia.

We will have an opportunity through this agreement to look at the value added sector and what we can do to improve conditions for the growth of the value added sector here in Canada.

We have a dispute resolution mechanism which is a non-NAFTA dispute resolution mechanism. It will provide for quick, clear, transparent and fairly immediate resolution of disputes arising from this agreement.

In weak markets, which occur regularly in the lumber business, as anyone familiar with this industry knows, we do have a framework which is flexible. We have opportunities for provinces to choose how they wish to manage and react to markets when prices are below certain threshold levels. We have retention of revenues. When we have an export tax in place, those moneys stay here in Canada and the largest portion will be returned to the provinces from where the tax was collected.

When we think about the agreement and members of the House make a decision on how to vote on the agreement, we should think long and hard about the alternative. Our lumber producers have spent the better part of the last two decades engaged in costly and drawn out legal battles with the United States. They know that winning the battle is not the same as winning the war. Our victories in a number of trade courts, both with the NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, were helpful in setting the stage for a negotiated settlement.

However, litigation was never intended to be an end game. The government has not seen it that way. The last government did not see it that way, and the vast majority in the industry never saw litigation as a route to the final solution in softwood lumber. It was always intended to give Canada a strong basis for negotiations. Taken to the limit, litigation has proven to be a sinkhole into which we can pour hundreds of millions of Canadian dollars. It is a ticket to affluence and opulence for U.S. trade lawyers, but it is not a ticket to full free trade in lumber.

Some have suggested that Canada should have held out for the ultimate win in litigation, which they claimed would come some time in 2007 or beyond. Every member in the House must recognize that legal victory is never certain. On any given case, it is never certain. Every member must recognize that the United States, or its softwood lumber lobby, could simply file a new case the very next day.

There is little to prevent the U.S. from changing its laws to erase the basis for our legal victories. Only an agreement, such as the one we have reached, can prevent new cases and a new dispute from erupting immediately. In weak lumber markets, such as we have now, that is the time when Canada is most vulnerable to the most egregious, painful and destructive attacks by U.S. protectionists.

The NAFTA is a good trade agreement, but it was never devised to avoid trade disputes and trade litigation, whether originating on the U.S. side or the Canadian side. Those who reject a negotiated softwood lumber agreement are basically arguing for a sustained attack on U.S. trade law. That would be a war of attrition and I do not think it would be a war that we could win with the emerging and growing protectionist sentiments in the U.S. It is a war that would be fought on the backs of Canadian companies and Canadian workers. In the end, the legal victories would be empiric victories, the pain would far exceed the gain.

That is why the government took action, and it started right at the top. When our Prime Minister met with President Bush in Cancun earlier this year, they decided that resolving this dispute was fundamental to the Canada-U.S. trade relationship overall.

Together with the active involvement of industry and the provinces, we negotiated an agreement that is good for lumber communities and good for Canada. This agreement eliminates punitive U.S. duties. It ends costly litigation. It takes our lumber producers out of the courts and puts them back where they belong, growing their businesses and contributing to their communities.

For the next seven to nine years no border measures will be imposed when lumber prices are above $355 U.S. for a thousand board feet. When prices drop below this threshold level, the agreement provides provinces with flexibility to choose the border measures most beneficial to their economic situation. All export charge revenues collected by the Government of Canada through these border measures will stay in Canada. The agreement returns more than $5 billion Canadian to the industry. That is a much needed infusion of capital for an industry and the workers who rely on the lumber industry.

Make no mistake about it, if we turn our backs on this negotiated softwood lumber agreement, that some members continue to advocate, that would mean a return to the courts. It would mean greater job losses for the people and communities that depend on softwood lumber.

Ask the major lumber producing provinces that joined the overwhelming majority in industry in supporting this agreement, ask the producing companies, and ask the workers, if they really want to continue with a softwood lumber trade war at a time like this when markets are weak and protectionist pressures are strong and growing in the United States. Ask them if they would like to go back to paying U.S. duties. Ask them if they want to take on new legal attacks, new cases, and new duties, and further fill the pockets and the coffers of U.S. law firms. Ask them if they want to follow the opponents of a negotiated settlement like lemmings off another cliff in an act of collective economic suicide.

Our lumber communities have suffered long enough. They need the stability and the resources that this agreement provides. This agreement is the best way forward for our softwood lumber industry and the over 300,000 Canadians who rely on it. It does not solve every problem, but it does provide the framework for resolving outstanding problems. We will work with provinces, with industry, and with communities to build a great future for a great industry. I ask members to support Bill C-24.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three questions which I will put to the minister and I will try to make them succinct.

Canfor was one of the first companies, and maybe the only company, that felt that the chapter 11 claim, in the context of the softwood lumber tariffs and the anti-dumping framework, essentially stated that its assets were unduly attacked with an unfair process. The minister may not be able to comment on this, but I am wondering how the minister can reconcile that with his position here today.

Second, at what price per thousand board feet do companies break even in terms of what companies would have been paying under the current tariff versus the new export tax where the companies could end up paying more export tax than they would have paid in terms of the U.S. tariff? What price is that? Are we there today or are we expected to be there at some point?

My third question is with respect to the concept of zeroing within the framework of anti-dumping. It is a complicated arrangement. I know the Minister of International Trade is very well versed in this. I wonder if he would comment on the concept of zeroing and whether he thinks it is a fair practice.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member asks some good questions.

On the chapter 11 issue, as the member knows I was the CEO at Canfor at the time Canfor launched a chapter 11 case. I can tell him from first-hand knowledge that the chapter 11 case that Canfor launched at that time was launched as a way of bringing further pressure on the U.S. government to bring about a negotiated settlement of the softwood lumber agreement.

We felt there was a strong case at the time, but again, it was always intended that the course of bringing litigation to a conclusion was a long, complex and very expensive project, and ultimately we would have to go to the negotiating table to bring about a satisfactory resolution. The chapter 11 issue should be seen in that context.

In terms of the break-even tariff, members will know that at the time this agreement came into force, the U.S. tariff was close to 11%. In this market, where lumber prices are under $300, we are in a world where we would be paying an export tax of 15%.

The context that all members must understand is that the 11% was under administrative review. It was already scheduled to rise to over 14% later this year. I can tell members that dumping margins, which are unique in this latest lumber dispute, grow dramatically in weak markets, so we have to expect that the U.S. duties would have climbed significantly. Even when we finally would have won, and we probably would have won through litigation on the current cases, there would have been new cases launched. I can tell members that in the current environment the likelihood of American success in the next legal round would have been greatly elevated.

Again, we must remember that the 15% duty we are charging as an export levy is almost like another form of stumpage, except that it is much more focused and is only on lumber that goes to the U.S. market, as opposed to raising the price of timber across the board, which would have rendered pulp and paper and OSB less competitive. It would have been very damaging. But that money stays here in Canada for the betterment of Canadians and that is a very important distinction.

On the matter of zeroing, as the hon. member knows, we have had cases at the WTO and zeroing has been ruled ultra vires, so to speak, of WTO rules, but there are a number of different ways that de facto zeroing still applies in dumping cases. I am no big fan of zeroing. That has been my view for a long time.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to comment following the minister's speech because it is important that everyone in Canada and Quebec learn a history lesson from this negotiation.

We must remember that the Canadian government dragged the entire forest industry into a fight against the Americans because of a court case. In the end, we were forced to accept an agreement that was less than satisfactory. We have been in regular direct contact with the forest industry, which asked us to support this agreement. Given the outcome of the negotiations, it was the best choice.

In order for us to learn from this lesson, I would like to know what the minister plans to do to monitor the implementation of this agreement. Will the monitoring committees provided for in the agreement really be established? I would also like to know if he is aware that the forest industry still needs another plan to help it get through the very difficult period it is now experiencing. I think that the money we are getting back from the Americans will do nothing more than help the industry keep its head above water. It needs much more than that.

I know that businesses in my riding, especially those that use American wood, will be exempt from duties. They are happy with that. However, the entire industry is going through a very difficult time because of the drop in prices.

I would therefore like the minister to tell us how he intends to ensure follow-up. I would also like to know how he plans to support the industry's recovery, not just by getting money back from the Americans, but by offering other forms of assistance from the federal government.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are in fact putting in place some of the committees that have been specified directly in the softwood lumber agreement. We are beginning to develop agendas. We are preparing to appoint appropriate individuals who can ensure that the agreement is administered and evolves in the most positive and constructive way for the Canadian industry.

I am also looking at appointing an advisory committee to me as the minister, which would help to advise me and thereby the government on how we ensure the longer term evolution of the softwood lumber agreement and the softwood lumber industry from a Canadian perspective.

The member quite rightly points out that the softwood lumber industry in Canada, and indeed in North America, has been going through some very difficult times.

We now have the pine beetle in British Columbia, which is causing an acceleration of the annual allowable cut and therefore a substantial increase in lumber production in that part of the world. However, 10 years out, there is going to be a very serious reduction in the annual allowable cut in British Columbia as a result of the beetle-infected wood having been harvested and the difficult sustainability issues that will face forest management in B.C.

Quebec and Ontario have been experiencing and managing reductions in the annual allowable cut in recent years. That is going to continue for a longer time.

In Quebec there are some very specific issues that need to be dealt with. Labour mobility out of some of the smaller lumber dependent communities in Quebec is not what it is in other parts of Canada. There are some very specific issues in the province of Quebec that need to be dealt with.

I know that both of my colleagues, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Natural Resources, are looking at tax and other measures which can be helpful in ensuring the strong evolution of the industry. We want to ensure that we do become the world's greatest lumber producer and the most technologically sophisticated lumber producer as we go forward.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister very carefully today on his presentation at third reading on the softwood deal. It took me back a few years to a previous Conservative government that negotiated a free trade deal with the U.S. The government at that time told Canadians that the free trade deal would end all of these kinds of disputes with the U.S. on trade. Sadly, that certainly has not been the case, as has been pointed out with this softwood sellout to the U.S.

My question for the minister is specifically about how this deal he has negotiated with the Americans will impact on other trade sectors and other Canadian industrial sectors that trade with the U.S. What now is to prevent any American industry attacking Canadian trade in the same way that the lumber industry has in the U.S.?

What does that say about the trade deals we have negotiated and the dispute mechanisms that are in place, where we actually have won at every level? Yet we have negated any kind of faith in the trade deals we have signed with the U.S. How does the minister respond to that in terms of other industrial sectors and their vulnerability now to this kind of tactic from Americans?

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have to say right off the bat that the NDP has always been critical of NAFTA. Indeed, I think that party is critical of free trade generally. I want to go on the record as stating very clearly and firmly that without trade liberalization, without NAFTA, Canada would be a very substantially poorer country today. Jobs depend on it. Our wealth creation depends on it. Our social programs depend on it. Our country depends on it. We are a small population economy spread across a massive land area. If we do not have good, liberal international trade, we are in serious trouble.

In terms of how this agreement affects other sectors, it is clear to me, and it was part of our thinking right through this piece, that the longer the softwood lumber dispute was prolonged the more it was contaminating our relationship with the United States across a host of issues. In fact, the environment was so badly poisoned that it could have led to much more serious cases developing.

Now that we have the softwood lumber case dealt with in a way that is very advantageous to Canada, we are in very good shape in terms of other sectors. We are also in very good shape in terms of a more positive pro-Canadian evolution of NAFTA that is beneficial to Canada .

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on the softwood lumber products export charge act, 2006.

I appreciate the minister's forthright comments on my earlier questions. I must say that I was a big cheerleader when Canfor launched its chapter 11 claim under NAFTA to say that the assets of Canfor had been wrongly put at risk and jeopardized because of an unfair process in the United States to come up with the lumber tariff. The reality is, in a nutshell, that this is what a chapter 11 filing does. I appreciate the minister's remark that this was to keep pressure on the United States, but nonetheless I believe it is an illusion to think that this agreement is going to find us any sort of peace.

In 1996, for example, there was the softwood lumber III round of negotiations, in which we agreed on managed trade for a five year period. When that ended, the U.S. launched softwood lumber IV. I know the argument is that if we keep litigating they can keep launching a countervailing duty file, but frankly at some point it comes down to being on the right side, and it has been shown that the Canadian softwood lumber industry does not subsidize its softwood lumber.

If we go back to softwood lumber I, the U.S. may have had a case. Our lumber was not priced as well as it could have been in terms of the market, but governments caught on to that and made changes in their stumpage and royalties. We know that today it has nothing to do with subsidies and everything to do with market share. As soon as our market share gets beyond 30%, the U.S. launches another countervailing duty file.

In my judgment, the problem in this case is that while many in the forest industry have said they would rather accept this deal, I think they are doing it under duress because the Conservative government told them that if they did not agree to this deal it was not going to support them any longer. We know that the forest industry in Canada could not possibly continue the countervailing duty process and fight what has been proven time and time again to be a lie, the lie that our softwood lumber in Canada is subsidized.

The industry could not continue this fight without the support of the federal government. That is why our Liberal government had proposed a package to help the industry with bridge financing and a whole range of issues to get over this hurdle and to keep fighting. Why would we cut a deal when we are winning at every stage?

I beg to differ with the minister. This has set a terrible precedent. I do not think it positions us that well with respect to the U.S. market in other areas. If I were in the steel industry or any other industry in the United States, I would tell myself that if Canada had to cut a deal on softwood lumber when it was winning at every conceivable stage and when objective panels comprised of Americans and Canadians were saying that Canadian softwood lumber was not subsidized, then the Americans should have an easy time on other products. I do not think it positions us very well.

I am not suggesting that this is an easy file. This is a very difficult file, but on balance I believe very strongly that the government should not have negotiated a deal. I do not think it is going to work in our interests in the long run.

We even have had confirmed by the minister that the way softwood lumber pricing is going at $300 for 1,000 board feet, the effect today would be that Canadian softwood lumber producers would actually be paying more under this deal, so we are going to be voting on this deal, finally, to say that our industry should actually end up paying more in terms of an export tax than it is paying in U.S. tariffs. While I understand what the minister is saying in that there are other pressures to review the U.S. tariff, et cetera, it is not money in the bank where I come from. That is something that might have happened or could have happened. Right now we know the effect is that our Canadian lumber producers are going to be paying more.

The sliding scale, where the export tax goes up when the pricing comes down, works very advantageously for U.S. softwood lumber producers. When the pricing goes down, they want less competition in the market. I am not sure that helps the Canadian softwood lumber producers. When the pricing is tanked, they do not want to have to pay more in export taxes. They want to increase their market share.

The industry is under duress and needs the support of the federal government. It did that this might be a good deal, but when the alternative was they would not get any support from the federal government, I think they knew it was all over. They had to cave in like the government caved in and support the agreement, although not all companies or all associations in Canada have said that. I believe they see the longer term implications of this deal.

We need to understand that the U.S. lumber producers are essentially saying this. Because they have a different system in the United States where the vast majority of their forest land is privately held, where in Canada it is just the reverse and most of our forest land is owned by the Crown, and because they auction a lot of their timber and we auction only a small percentage, their system is right and our system is wrong. I dispute that. We do have a different system. Our system of pricing timber has evolved over many decades in Canada.

I would like to know this from the minister. What happens if we move to this softwood lumber deal and many of the provinces move more aggressively to auctioning timber and the price becomes lower than the Crown pricing? That is a possibility. I have talked to many companies. I have also seen companies in the Prince George region where they have a mix of private timber and Crown timber. The private timber they get through the small business auctions is priced lower than the stumpage that is charged by the British Columbia government.

Therefore, there is no guarantee whatsoever that if we move to more of an auction based system, the delivered cost of wood will be lower. In fact, the pricing could increase and go the other way.

What will the U.S. lumber producers do then when they find that the delivered wood costs in Canada are declining because of more auctioned timber? Will that be the panacea they look for then?

A study was done a few years ago by an independent consulting group. It came to the conclusion that Canada's forest industry was 40% more productive than the U.S. forest industry. That was on the basis of total factor productivity. Admittedly that cuts across different parts of the forest industry, pulp and paper, lumber, panels, et cetera. In fairness the lumber sector was not quite as productive as the rest, but on average it still did very well. It was more productive than the U.S. sawmilling industry. On a total factor productivity basis, the Canadian forest industry is 40% more productive than the United States. That total factor productivity is a way of looking at how the industry applies labour, technology, person power, et cetera.

All one has to do is go to Prince George, British Columbia and see some of the sawmills there. They are some of the most efficient sawmills in the world. In fact, U.S. sawmill owners and operators come to Canada and they are given tours of these sawmills in the Prince George area. They are some of the best and most productive sawmills in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that we can sell a lot of softwood lumber into the United States.

We also have a great resource. We have a colder climate that produces a better product. There are more rings. The wood does not warp or wane as much as on some of these southern plantations in the United States. If one goes to the southern United States to a construction site and asks a carpenter or building contractor what he prefers, U.S. southern yellow pine or spruce pine fir from British Columbia, he will say that he prefers the SPF from B.C. because it is a better quality product.

We know we have a comparative advantage in softwood lumber, yet we are caving in and making a deal. We are acknowledging the lie that softwood lumber in Canada is subsidized. That was the term used by the Free Trade Lumber Council, and it is an absolute truth. We have a very productive industry.

If senators or congressmen or congresswomen in Montana, or Washington state, or Oregon state or Wyoming have sawmills in their areas that might go bankrupt, what do they do? They will pull out all the stops. They will not allow the sawmills to go down because the market is being penetrated by Canadian softwood lumber, which is a better quality product and is priced the same because it is a commodity market. If the margins are good in Canada, more lumber will go there. That just makes economic sense.

This is not a matter for the Canadian government or Canadian producers. Something else should be found for those sawmills that are not as competitive as Canada's sawmills. Pittsburgh was converted into a high tech centre because its commodity based steel mills could not compete on the same scale with the Japanese and the Taiwanese. It became a niche player in the steel industry. That may not be possible with the few sawmills scattered around Montana, or Washington state or Oregon.

Why push the problems up to us? Can we not acknowledge that Canada has a comparative advantage in softwood lumber? I am prepared to concede that perhaps the U.S. has a comparative advantage over us in high tech and some other sectors. Can the U.S. not accept the fact that we have a comparative advantage in softwood lumber? The U.S. industry either cannot or will not accept this fact because U.S. senators and congressmen and congresswomen are trying to prop up inefficient mills. They have the power through Congress and through the Senate to start these protectionist movements. We need a better way to resolve disputes.

The minister has had a long history and a distinguished career in the forest products industry. He knows if someone wants to put up a sawmill, or an OSB mill, or an MDF mill, or a plywood plant, or a pulp mill or a newsprint operation in the U.S. south, that the individual will be offered just about everything to make the deal come true. State and local governments will offer sales tax abatements, tax holidays, property tax abatements and deals on energy. The capital costs of putting up a mill in the United States are about 20% less than the cost of putting up a comparable mill in Canada. Why? I have listed some of the incentives or subsidies, but there are others such as tax free bonds, cheap industrial land, cogeneration agreements, et cetera.

These deals are not limited to the forest products sector. The minister would know full well from his days in the industry portfolio that U.S. state and local governments offered somewhere in the range of 40% to 50% in subsidies for the capital costs of starting up or expanding an auto plant.

I am talking now about the hypocrisy of the United States producers and government supporting those producers when it comes to dealing with subsidies. As I said, people can get almost any kind of subsidy they want if they want to put a new mill in the United States, if they wanted to put up an auto plant or expand.

What about agricultural subsidies? My colleagues in rural sectors will know all about that. The Americans are probably one of the champions of agricultural subsidies, maybe a close second to Europe. They even call them subsidies.

The USDA Forest Service auctions off land and forestry resources. In the past some of those sales were done through auction. In some cases companies bid on that timber and years later they were unable to complete the deal because the price of 2x4 lumber had gone down. If they harvested the wood at that price, it would have been a very difficult economic situation for them. I think they have to go the White House to get this rescinded, and it has been done. The U.S. government notes that the price was bid 10 years ago, but since the economics have changed, it lets them off the hook. That is not an auction system when someone is let off the hook.

We know in the United States, particularly the Pacific northwest, that a lot of the pricing is speculative in nature. We read about the issues around the spotted owl. We read about many of the trends that were causing huge amounts of commercial forestry land to be taken out of production, and it may have been for very legitimate reasons. I am not arguing about the spotted owl. Maybe it needs to be protected. Maybe huge swaths of commercial timberland need to be taken out of production to protect it, but we know there is a scarcity.

In other words, the demand for timber in the U.S. Pacific northwest exceeds the supply. Therefore, if companies are in an auction system, they bid the price up because they want to have access to those timber resources in 15 years to feed their sawmills. We have never heard anyone argue that maybe the price of timber is too high in the United States. Maybe it is pricing itself out of the market. Maybe our pricing is the right.

However, the countervailing duty process does not allow us to get into questions like that. We cannot ask why in some cases the USDA Forest Service, which is a public agency, sells the rights to harvest timber at prices that are less than its costs. Under the countervailing duty process, all we can do is defend our system.

We cannot ask the U.S. government about all the subsidies it throws at U.S. producers because quite conveniently the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress have defined the countervailing duty process in a different way. They allege that we are subsidizing timber. It is up to us to show that we do not. We cannot tell them that they are subsidizing their softwood lumber and forest products. They do not talk about things like that. The process is quite flawed.

All of that really upsets me, but look at the anti-circumvention clause in the softwood lumber agreement. If the House supports this, then we agree that this clause is just fine. The clause says that if the U.S. feels actions are being taken, actions that might run counter to the agreement, by the Government of Canada, or the provincial or territorial governments, it can say that it is against the agreement and call for action. That could cover the whole range of forest policy initiatives of the federal and provincial and territorial governments. That is a very dangerous precedent.

The producers are being told they have to drop their lawsuits. If they drop them, in two or three years the U.S. producers can say that they do not think the softwood lumber deal works for them and that they want to scrap it. What do the companies that have dropped their lawsuits do then?

I know there is a lot of pressure from local companies in some cases to sign this deal but it is a terrible precedent. It really does not work for Canada and it does not work for our forest industry. I urge members in this House to study this carefully and defeat this bill when it comes forward.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. I have taken part in every stage of the softwood lumber negotiations.

Let us think back to the first negotiations. A number of years ago, the then Minister of International Trade, Pierre Pettigrew, said: “We have a very good legal case. We will win this battle against the Americans and then we will truly have free trade on softwood lumber again”. However, a major problem came up along the way. The softwood lumber industry realized that the government was not prepared to support it in a satisfactory manner by providing loan guarantees. We ended up falling into the Americans' trap of dragging out the negotiations as long as possible. Even though we were winning every legal battle, the forestry industry was on its last legs. The companies asked us to support the agreement to get their money back so that they could continue to survive on the market and not disappear. It was becoming a rather paradoxical situation. We may have won a legal victory on our position, but there would be no one left in Quebec or Canada to celebrate.

Earlier my colleague made reference to the Free Trade Lumber Council, where Mr. Grenier gave some very serious advice. The weak point of the negotiation was the fact that the Liberal government at the time failed—like the current Conservative government—to adequately support these companies when it was time to do so and, in the end, we were forced to accept this very bad agreement. In any case, it is not very advantageous to Quebec and Canada.

Are we not sending a very negative message to our American neighbours and to the rest of the world that might is right? If the companies had received help through loan guarantees at the right time, today we would not be in this position of weakness where we have to support this motion. I understand that the industry asked us to do so. I believe that the way things unfolded this was the only solution. Nonetheless, could we not draw some lessons from this for the future? Before launching such offensives, we have to make sure we have the financial means to support the industrial sector concerned.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup for his questions and comments However, I do not agree with him when he says that at this time we do not have a choice and we must support this bill. In my opinion, it is wrong to think that way. As for our Liberal government, our support for the forestry industry is long-standing.

We supported the industry through every countervailing duty action, which took a tremendous amount of work by our embassy in Washington and the department and through consultations with the industries. We had worked up a package that would support the industry with respect to loan guarantees and with respect to other initiatives, such as the need for the industry to convert their energy sources and use their biomass to develop electricity, because one of the big problems with the forest industry today is its high cost of energy.

We also put a number of initiatives in our package to help the forest industry to diversify their markets because markets are developing quite aggressively in China and India. While they have different cultures and different building codes and standards, we can make progress in selling our forest products into those markets and relieve some of the reliance on the U.S. softwood lumber market.

My colleague from the Bloc is mistaken when he says that the Liberal government did not support the forest industry. The Conservative government certainly has not. It told the industry that it had to either sign and support the softwood lumber deal or the government would cut off all support. The government put a gun to the head of the forest industry in Canada, which is why some of the companies are now saying that they do not have much choice because they cannot carry on without the support of the federal government. It was the Conservative government, not the Liberal government, that let the industry down.