House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

Early Learning and Child Care Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak about child care. First, I would like to talk about Quebec and its family policy. According to the 2001 census, Quebec had 450,000 children under the age of 6. Of this number, 200,000 are already in the provincial day care network. In addition, it is estimated that 110,000 children are in full- or part-time care outside the network. This family policy therefore clearly meets a real need.

The family policy is built on three main pillars: early childhood centres, the refundable tax credit and parental leave. The refundable tax credit is a quarterly allowance paid by the Government of Quebec, based on family income, household income and number of children. A refundable tax credit does not have the disadvantage of the $1,200 paid out by the Conservative Party. Families receive this tax credit, and it is not clawed back at the end of the year, regardless of their income. Parental leave allows mothers and fathers to stay home longer after a child is born.

In all, Quebec spends $4.5 billion annually on family support, in addition to parental leave, which is funded by Quebec pension plan contributions. In our opinion, day care goes hand in hand with family policy. We also think that a true family policy is a provincial responsibility exclusively. Parental leave, income support and the day care network must be combined in a coherent whole. In our view, for the sake of efficiency, this entire network, all these family policies, must come under provincial jurisdiction alone.

One function of day care centres is to pass on values, culture and language. That is why we maintain that the government closest to the people is better able to meet those needs.

Last week, at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, francophones living outside Quebec told us how much they would like to have French-language child care to facilitate early language learning and promote the survival of the language.

We know in this House that the Bloc Québécois opposed the taxable $1,200 allowance and suggested a refundable tax credit for all families. Lower-income families would have benefited from this deductible amount.

We feel that this measure is definitely not a child care service. It represents a social program, at most, and not enough money to be useful. I was infuriated to learn that, in July and August, the government sent out paper cheques in the amount of $100, rather than send them electronically. The operation cost $2 million.

Doing it that way allowed the minister to attach to the cheque a message for the parents, indicating that the universal child care benefit was paid directly to families because the government believes that parents know better than anyone what is best for their children.

In my opinion, the government is clearly trying to play politics at the expense of Canadian children. This must not be tolerated.

Bill C-303 has proven to be quite a matter of conscience for the Bloc Québécois.

On one hand, this bill does not respect the federal-provincial jurisdictions as set out in the Constitution. In our opinion, the Constitution clearly states that education and family policies are not federal jurisdictions. Furthermore, under this bill, child care service providers would have to commit to respecting a series of federal criteria regarding child care. The provinces would also have to commit, given the purported spending power, the legitimacy of which has always been contested by the Quebec government. In our opinion, this bill clearly was not introduced in the right Parliament.

On the other hand, this bill excludes Quebec entirely from this federalizing of family policies.

It respects the motion unanimously passed in Quebec's National Assembly on November 3, 2004, which states:

That, in the negotiations with the federal government on the implementation of a new Canada-wide child care program, the National Assembly support the Government of Quebec in its efforts to obtain funding with no strings attached and in the respect of Quebec's constitutional jurisdictions.

We also see that by accepting the social union agreement and by agreeing to align their family support policy with child tax benefits, the provinces, except Quebec, have allowed the federal government to take the leadership role in matters of family policy. Outside Quebec, the federal government has truly become the master of family policy.

We believe that passing this bill would allow Quebec to recoup the $807 million the Conservative government is denying us as a result of tearing up the agreement on funding child care. That is why we are in favour of this bill.

When the Liberal child care program was announced in 2004, reaction from defenders of this child care service truly showed us the difference in where Quebeckers and Canadians stand. In Canada, this announcement was seen as a promise to create the Canada-wide network of child care centres that people were looking for, and we can understand that. However, in Quebec, the child care service network already existed. The only thing Quebeckers saw in the child care program was just another unconditional transfer.

We would like to be relieved of the financial burden we are suffering as a result of the fiscal imbalance. We are making a tremendous investment in our children and families and we want proper financial compensation for our efforts.

Bill C-303 takes into account, which is quite rare—we have not seen much of this at the federal level—these two opposing tendencies in federal-provincial relations. In Quebec, we reject interference, but outside Quebec, Ottawa is seen as the guarantor of social progress, which is highly conducive to centralization.

In Bill C-303, with clause 4 allowing a right to opt out with full financial compensation, we believe this takes into account these opposite views of Canada; these two very different ways of seeing things.

We believe Bill C-303 recognizes the unique expertise of the Government of Quebec in the area of day care in North America. This recognition comes three years after the OECD had already stated the following in a study on day care:

There are, however, positive developments that are important to underline:

The extraordinary advance made by Quebec, which has launched one of the most ambitious and interesting early education and care policies in North America. ... none of these provinces showed the same clarity of vision as Quebec in addressing the needs of young children and families.

Therefore we support this bill. We only want the best for all Canadian children. Let us create a day care program that will meet those expectations.

When the member for Victoria spoke of equality and inclusiveness, it was clear that creating a policy enabling children to grow and to develops is very important to her. In my opinion, by investing in day care we are visionaries and we are thinking about the future. By supporting day cares activities focussing on socialization that lead to learning at a very early age, we will eliminate a great deal of illiteracy and violence in our societies. It is important to have a vision for the future. It allows us to create a progressive society, a society where education is a priority.

Early Learning and Child Care Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, all members of the House should ask themselves two questions that go to the very heart of our duty as members of Parliament. Do we want the best for our children of Canada? Do we want a bright future for Canadians? Those are simple questions but I urge all members to think about them seriously.

If any member says no to either question, let that member go on the record and tell Canadians that he or she does not want the best for children and does not care about the future of our children. Let members say it loud and clear. Let them admit it and then resign because the only business of the House is to work for a better future for all Canadians. That is what we are here for.

With this early learning and child care bill we have the opportunity to confirm our commitment to the future. We have the opportunity to support and build Canadian leadership in the world. We have the opportunity to invest in success.

Passing this legislation would ensure reliable provincial transfers for child care spaces while entrenching the principles of quality, universality, accessibility, accountability and educational development. These are national standards for this vitally needed service, like the standards for health care. This would establish early learning and child care as a cornerstone of Canada, as it should be and must be.

If we fail to enshrine this commitment to early learning and child care in legislation, then we would be saying no to those questions. We would be saying no to children, no to the future and no to Canada. We would be giving up on the future, failing our duty and embracing complete failure.

When it comes to early learning and child care, Canada already has a failing grade and dismal performance. We are at the bottom of the heap of industrialized nations. It is not just the NDP that is saying that; it is the OECD, the international community as well. Canada is completely failing our children and the OECD confirms this.

The previous Liberal government neglected this whole area for years, even though it spoke about the importance of early learning and child care. It committed transfers to the provinces last year. Finally there was some prospect of progress, but the last Parliament failed to enshrine the principles of our national commitment in legislation.

Now the new Conservative government has wiped out the provincial agreements. In a few months' time when the transfers end, the bit of progress we have made will be gone. Then Canada will continue its downward spiral, falling behind the rest of the world, unless we take action.

The OECD has put a global spotlight on Canada's dirty little secret. We have a failing grade in early education and child care. We have tumbled down below the rankings of other countries. We are way behind the leaders. We are way behind other western democracies not just in spending, but in the very nature of child care and early learning.

Too much of Canadian child care is unregulated babysitting with no quality educational components. That is another failing grade. That is what the OECD has said. That is the very course the new Conservative government seems determined to follow, providing an impetus to big box profiteers to fail our children even further.

Throwing a bit of money at parents and then clawing back a big chunk of it in taxes is not early learning and child care. No wonder the new government is desperate for an early election. It does not want to face the rage of parents next April after they are presented with their tax bills. That is when Canadians will see that there is a lot less to that $1,200 promise than meets the eye. It is a lot less money and no new early learning and child care spaces, no new spaces at all, nothing for children, no investment in the future. It is a complete dismal failure for Canada.

The OECD has made a clear link between national investments in quality child care and early learning and productivity and economic growth, not to mention that the OECD demonstrates that early learning and child care is also a social good. It has a positive impact on the health of children and society and it alleviates poverty. Child poverty remains a terrible reality in this country, another dismal failure.

Again, this is not just the NDP speaking. This is not just child care and educational experts talking. This is not just parents desperate for child care for their kids. This is not just the employers who want a productive workforce. The OECD is saying that we must deal with child care and invest in our children.

The OECD has recommended 1% of the GDP as a minimum government investment. We are at a dismal .03%, a fraction of the OECD benchmark. Some countries even invest 2%. No wonder Canadians' productivity is just slipping. No wonder Canadian businesses and industries are worried about our competitiveness and the competitiveness of the workforce.

Members of the new Conservative government like to boast about their business expertise and their economic stewardship. This is just as bogus as their so-called child care plan. When they rip the money away from provincial programs next year, in March 2007, Canada will be even worse in the OECD tables and the long term harm to our economy will be devastating.

This is why it is so important to enshrine the principles of early learning and child care in legislation. We can do that by supporting this bill. This is not a luxury; it is an urgent necessity. We cannot afford to let Canada fall further behind. Parliament must understand the urgency. Canada's future depends on it.

This is an action we must take. We must make it as an investment in leadership. The Prime Minister may think the best way to demonstrate Canadian leadership is to flex our military muscles, but surely the best way to show leadership is to support our children and our future. This is an area where Canada should be number one. There is no excuse for this. We urge the government and all members of the House to strive for excellence and success and not failure.

Remember the two questions I asked earlier: Do we want the best for the children of Canada? Do we want a bright future? I believe that every member of the House knows what his or her answer should be. Let us agree and move forward. Let us support Canada's early learning and child care bill. Canada's children are relying on us. Let us show them what true leadership is all about.

Early Learning and Child Care Act
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-303 introduced by the member for Victoria.

This bill has a number of flaws. A closer review reveals that this bill would represent a significant intrusion into provincial and territorial jurisdictions by imposing criteria and conditions on provincial and territorial governments in order for them to qualify for federal early learning and child care funding. Putting aside for a moment the legal challenges which this bill would face, the imposition of the standards referenced in this bill speak to a larger philosophical difference between the NDP and Canada's new government on the subject of support for Canadian families. While I believe we share a common belief that the federal government has a role to play in supporting the child care needs of Canadian families, we differ with respect to what form such support should take.

The former Liberal government's one size fits all program did not work for the diverse needs of Canadian families. Now the NDP is proposing one size fits all child care legislation. In distinct contrast, Canada's new government has brought forth, and more important, acted on a universal child care plan based on providing choice for parents. This plan also recognizes and respects the roles and responsibilities of the provinces and territories for delivering child care services. Parents in the provinces need flexibility and freedom to choose the type of child care that works best for them. Our universal child care program allows them to do just that.

I would also note that the program we have delivered as a government is one that recognizes the whole issue of choice. For many years Canadian families have been requesting, in fact demanding, that there be equity and fairness in the support that Canada's government delivers for families. Unfortunately, that support has not been forthcoming until very recently.

In our recent budget we fulfilled an election promise that we would deliver $1,200 per child under the age of six, per year. A family with two children would receive double that amount, and with three children, triple that amount. It is a significant amount of money and much more than was ever delivered under any previous government.

Unfortunately, the member for Victoria is actually proposing a bill which runs counter to the promises we made to the Canadian public in the last election. What she forgets is that on January 23 Canada elected not a failed Liberal government, not an NDP government, but a new Conservative government which was going to live up to its promises. That promise was to deliver equity and fairness to families across Canada, hard-working moms and dads who try to deliver enough resources to their family, to raise respectful children and to provide them with a lifestyle consistent with Canadian standards. We have delivered on that promise. We intend to continue to do that as we put the emphasis on young children in our society. The House will notice more legislation coming forward from our government which will put the focus on protecting children. For example, I have brought forward a private member's bill that will address the issue of luring children over the Internet.

Our child care policy is focused again on the child. It is focused on the very families that need the help, the ones trying to raise respectable citizens for our country, children who are going to be future leaders.

Bill C-303 is simply the old solutions being regurgitated. It would address the issue of the administrative costs of delivering child care through government agencies. What we have chosen to do with our plan is to focus in on driving and delivering the resources and the funds directly to the parents who need it.

Unfortunately, I have to speak against the bill. I strongly support our government's move toward providing the $1,200 per child per year child care allowance.

Early Learning and Child Care Act
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When this item comes back for consideration, the hon. member for Abbotsford will have another four and a half minutes.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

September 25th, 2006 / 12:10 p.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 second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour today to speak to the legislation to enable the Government of Canada to implement the softwood lumber agreement reached this past summer with the United States. Softwood lumber for Canadian softwood lumber producers has been an industry that has been plagued by trade disputes, border measures and various types of trade harassment for basically a quarter of a century.

The agreement will provide stability and dispute-free market access to the United States market. It will provide stability for a period of at least eight to nine years. I also believe it will provide a trajectory for the evolution of the softwood lumber industry to a world of complete free trade. This is not unlike what happened in the automotive industry in the 1960s and 1970s where a sector, which was once subject to significant protection, gradually, through a sector specific agreement, evolved into a successful sector that is subject to almost complete free trade today.

I would ask hon. members to consider the softwood lumber agreement, not in the context of whether this is better than or as good as complete free trade. We know the answer to that. What we also know is that complete free trade is not the option that we have before us. It has not been the option for the last 24 years and it is not the option today. We are not one legal victory away from free trade.

In fact, when we look at the softwood lumber industry, it is a highly cyclical industry. We have just been through a very positive part of the cycle. We are now going into a negative part of the cycle where lumber prices will be lower than their normal trend price. During the low part of the cycle, trade actions not only proliferate, they become more robust. In this softwood lumber dispute, we are dealing with not just countervailing duties based on allegations of subsidies of Canadian softwood lumber producers, we are also dealing with anti-dumping duties.

When we get into a weak market, the ability of American protectionists to launch new cases or to raise the duty rates on existing cases, it becomes much more severe, much more difficult and much more problematic. Without this agreement we would be looking at a difficult period of trade litigation over the months and years ahead.

Let us talk about the agreement for a moment and some of the highlights of the agreement. The agreement is long term in nature. It provides for eight to nine years of dispute free trade with the United States. During good lumber markets, which, based on the history of the last 10 years, would be about 50% of the time or maybe a little bit more, we would have complete free trade. There would be no border measures, no quotas and no export taxes.

We are also looking at an agreement that puts much needed cash into the hands of companies, businesses and communities. Under this agreement, 81% of the duties on deposit with the United States would come back to Canadian companies. That is more than 5 billion Canadian dollars coming back into companies at a time when they badly need the cash and badly need to invest in their businesses.

In addition, as a Canadian initiative and as part of the agreement, we have included an accelerated deposit recovery mechanism. Through the Export Development Corporation of Canada, producers will be able to obtain their cash deposit within four to eight weeks of them filing their documents with Export Development Canada. That is compared to a normal time period that could take in excess of six months, possibly more than two years, to recover deposits through the U.S. customs.

The agreement has major exemptions in it. The entire Atlantic Canadian industry would be exempt from any border measures under the agreement which includes dumping duties. As hon. members will know, unlike previous trade disputes, Atlantic Canadian companies, while they have not been subject to countervailing duties, have been subject to dumping duties. Dumping duties are pernicious in weak markets. Dumping duties grow. An administrative review indicates that dumping duties will grow this fall. Even if we continue to win current litigation, that litigation will be appealed. Dumping duties will continue to be applied and Canadian companies, including those in Atlantic Canada, would be subject to continuing trade harassment. The territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, are also exempt from the provisions of the agreement, with no border measures there.

A very important part of the agreement is the unprecedented protection of provincial forest policies as a result of the agreement. In the past, what is called anti-circumvention language in past agreements had basically prevented provincial governments from implementing changes in forest policies and, indeed, any measure that a province would take under past agreements that had the effect of reducing timber stumpage, would have been subject to countervail and would have been a circumvention of the last softwood lumber agreement.

In the agreement, those policies are protected. We can in fact have a market based timber pricing system, as has been implemented in British Columbia, that now will be protected. Timber prices can go up when markets are good and timber prices can go down when markets are bad. Timber prices can also reflect conditions such as an export tax, an exchange rate change, hydro rates or any other kind of economic circumstance that changes the value of timber. The agreement protects those policies that allow timber pricing mechanisms to play their role as shock absorbers as we go through the vagaries of the lumber market and those factors which affect it.

The agreement also provides flexibility. In that part of the market when prices are low, the agreement provides provinces with significant flexibility as to how they wish to implement the agreement. In some parts of the country there will be a desire to restrict volume because they are actually reducing their allowable cut for other reasons. In provinces like Quebec, in a weak market they can pay duties no higher than 5% and complement that by reductions in volume shipped into the U.S. market.

In other regions, such as British Columbia, we have the option of not reducing our volume but paying a higher export tax, which is what the province of British Columbia and certain other provinces wanted. They wanted that flexibility built into the agreement and it is built into the agreement. We now have the ability, in different parts of the country where the industry is subject to different factors, to respond quite differently to the circumstances of a weak lumber market.

To the degree that there are export taxes collected, those revenues are not going to go into the U.S. treasury. Those revenues are going to stay here in Canada. They are to go back to the provinces where the lumber originated. Again, this will continue to protect Canadian companies, Canadian governments and Canadian economic interests.

Let us talk about dispute resolution. Many members of the House have spoken about chapter 19 of NAFTA, often critically and with some valid issues to be dealt with over time in regard to chapter 19, but this agreement provides a separate dispute resolution mechanism. That dispute resolution mechanism will deal quickly and in a binding way with issues that come up in the context of this softwood lumber agreement. So again, we have improved our position in terms of dispute resolution.

On termination, we have heard people speak about the need for a termination clause. Some have said we should not have a termination clause. Some have said we should have a long termination clause. We have negotiated in this agreement the best and most secure termination language in any trade agreement that Canada or the United States has.

In fact, one cannot terminate this agreement for 18 months. After 18 months, there must be six months' notice. After the six months' notice there is a 12-month standstill during which no trade action can be brought against Canadian companies. This six months' notice and 12-month standstill will continue through the agreement. At the end of the seventh year, if the United States were not to renew this agreement for the full nine years, the 12-month standstill would continue to apply. In effect, at a minimum, we get eight years of dispute-free trade.

This agreement will evolve. It is not going to be a static agreement.

There are mechanisms built into this agreement that will allow government-to-government committees to work on critical policy issues to improve the agreement, to look at issues like the British Columbia coastal industry and the issue with respect to exports of lumber from logs harvested off private lands. It will deal with issues of running rules to ensure that the agreement operates in a commercially viable manner. And it will give a very clear and immediate focus to what we call off-ramps.

Government-to-government discussions will look at the policy changes that provincial governments can put in place to find relief from the measures included in this softwood lumber agreement. That is a very important part of this agreement, because it will allow the agreement to be improved and to migrate gradually to full free trade over time.

There is also a binational mechanism at the industry level so industry can work together to determine how better to improve the competitiveness and the market position of the North American softwood lumber industry. Again, the analogy to autos or the steel sector, where the sector gradually evolves to full free trade, is readily apparent.

This is an agreement that is good for Atlantic Canada. It will give the provinces of Atlantic Canada full exemption. It will get them away from the threat of dumping duties that are sure to grow and become much more burdensome going forward without this agreement.

This agreement will be good for Quebec. It meets Quebec's needs in terms of the option and the kind of agreement Quebec was seeking to best support its industry. And let us remember that 32 border mills in Quebec will be completely exempt from border measures under this agreement.

Again, Ontario is supportive. There is an option that meets Ontario's needs.

It is the same thing for the Prairies.

British Columbia is very well positioned under this agreement. It is well positioned because the number one issue that British Columbia had was to protect its new regulatory measures for timber pricing and forest management in British Columbia. Those policies have been fully protected under this agreement.

British Columbia is now able to have a market-based timber pricing system. Timber prices will go up and down to reflect the true economics of doing business in the U.S. market. That is something we have never had before.

Remanners will be better off. They will not be charged any duties on the value added portion of their production.

High value producers will be better off because there will be a $500 limit over which duties will not be increased beyond that which would apply to a $500 per 1,000 board foot product.

This is a good deal and it has broad support from both industry and provinces. Over 90% of the industry, when polled in August, said it supported this agreement. Companies are now coming in and working with us. They are very happy with the work we are doing toward implementation of this agreement. They are working with us, not against us. They believe this is an agreement that will enable them to get back to managing their businesses, building their companies, and supporting the communities and the jobs in those communities.

It also clears the table for Canada to get back to doing business in North America, to get back to rectifying some of the issues that need to be addressed in Canada's best interest as we strengthen and improve the workings of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I would remiss if I did not pay tribute to the people who have worked so hard and have been so dedicated in bringing this agreement about.

Without the Prime Minister's intervention at the very highest levels to set a new tone to make sure that Canada was able to do business in a way that would benefit Canadians, without that new tone, this agreement could not have happened.

It could not have happened without Ambassador Wilson and the good work that he and Claude Carrière in the embassy in Washington did in the negotiation of this agreement.

Ambassador Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, has been very supportive, very helpful and a very constructive participant.

My colleague, the Minister of Industry, has been a very strong contributor to the work that has gone into this agreement.

As for my own staff, my deputy minister, Marie-Lucie Morin, has been a stellar contributor to this agreement. Andrea Lyon in my department has been tireless. She spent her whole spring and her whole summer, right into the fall, doing nothing but this.

The Export Development Corporation of Canada has been stellar in cooperating and providing for an accelerated mechanism for refund of deposits.

I call on members to support this agreement, to support the stability and the ability to grow and develop the softwood lumber industry. Let us get back to business. Let us get back to protecting and creating jobs and getting investment back into the forest industry and all those communities that depend on it.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like to ask the minister three specific questions.

I think the House would be interested in hearing the minister on three specific questions.

First, I wonder if the minister could tell us exactly how much money is in fact left in the United States. We have seen $1 billion. We have seen more than $1 billion. I am wondering if the government has a dollar figure for the amount of Canadian money left in Washington as a result of this agreement.

In that same vein, we believe that some $500 million, half a billion dollars, will end up in the hands of the American Lumber Coalition, the American lumber producers who have caused such grief over the last number of years in terms of their harassment of Canadian companies. At a time when the Byrd amendment is in fact sunsetting and disappearing, I am wondering how the minister can explain that the government decided to leave that half billion dollars directly in the hands of American companies sort of as a reward, so to speak, for their harassment.

Finally, and again, the other half of the money being left in the United States is going for meritorious purposes, we are told. We would be curious to hear what precisely the minister and the government understand to be the kind of use this money will see. Some observers before a committee of this House have said that it in fact could be used for partisan purposes in the United States, a rather loose definition. I wonder if the minister could explain exactly where the meritorious portion of the money will be spent.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a negotiated settlement. This is what we ultimately will have to do, or would have had to do, to resolve the softwood lumber dispute. The dispute will never be resolved through litigation. Litigation will always be based on U.S. law, there will always be new cases brought, and U.S. law can be changed if the U.S. feels we are winning and does not want us to win. So let us be clear: we must have a negotiated solution in softwood lumber. We hope for a day when that will not be the case. I believe this agreement gets us there.

The agreement clearly calls for basically $1 billion to stay in the U.S. and the rest to come back to Canada, which is about 81% of all the duties. There is $5.4 billion in total deposits, with $4.4 billion dollars U.S. or over $5 billion Canadian that comes back to Canadian companies and Canadian communities and will be put to work right here in Canada.

Of the $1 billion that stays in the U.S., as the hon. member said, half of that, or $450 million, will go to meritorious initiatives. We have been working with the United States and it was envisaged that if there were to be any kind of political involvement it would be bipartisan and it would be done through a charitable organization. I am informed that the latest thinking is that this charitable organization would have nothing whatever to do with politics in the United States.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to ask the minister how he could have agreed to negotiate and sign an agreement like this, particularly given the results at the tribunals.

The tribunals found for the Canadian policy and against the United States, and said that there had been no prejudice arising from subsidies or dumping. In addition, if the United States is agreeing to repay $4.4 billion to Canada, it is practically saying that it admits this money was taken dishonestly from Canadian companies. This action is an admission by the United States.

Now, on top of that, we are signing an agreement that provides that duties will have to be paid—not in all circumstances, but still in some—when we know for a fact that there were no subsidies or dumping by Canadian and Quebec companies.

I therefore have to ask what could have prompted the minister to sign an agreement like this. He was probably the only Conservative who agreed to it, since, as we will recall, the Conservatives’ election platform clearly said that they would take this all the way so that Canadians would get 100 per cent of their money.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that the allegations of subsidies by Canadian provinces on the softwood lumber have been going on for decades. Those allegations of subsidies stem fundamentally from the fact that Canadian timber is largely harvested off Crown land. They continue to make allegations that the fact it is harvested off Crown land, that the revenues go to government, the government is somehow not taking the full market value of the timber.

Those debates go on and on. We continue to win them, but the dispute never ends and it never will. Under U.S. law, which is what these disputes are adjudicated on when we use a NAFTA framework, they can continue to make allegations, to bring more suits, whether it is an allegation of subsidy. Absolutely for sure, if there were not this agreement and the federal or provincial governments attempted to assist the softwood lumber industry in any way, there would be more countervailing duty cases brought.

A new part of this dispute is the dumping side, which has just come in. The hon. member ought to know that even in Canada, we bring dumping cases. All it requires is that it can be demonstrated there is a loss, that the companies are losing money on shipments into a market. Particularly in bad markets, those cases will be sustained and it will be very damaging for Canada.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister talked about clearing the table. This agreement essentially gives the table away along with the whole rest of the house.

There have been a whole series of questions that have been asked by industry around this. A meeting last week in Vancouver was botched. Industry spokespeople came forward and asked important questions, but could not get answers because the government was not prepared. We certainly have seen that with this bill. We will have a chance to debate this throughout the course of this week: that the bill itself does not correspond to the actual agreement.

I could ask many questions of the minister, but I will restrict myself to one for the moment. Around the Export Development Canada administrative charges, people have asked what the charge is. They have been getting no answers. This is just one component of a very botched negotiation and a very bad agreement. Could the minister answer in the House what the EDC charge will be? What is the penalty the companies will pay?

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I do not accept the allegation or the premise that somehow this agreement is not a very good agreement. This is the best softwood lumber agreement that we have seen in Canada in the last three decades.

With respect to administrative charges by Export Development Canada, there are none.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is with some disappointment that I rise today to speak to 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.

In the last election campaign, there was very little discussion of softwood lumber. We thought, and a cursory look at the platforms would indicate, that there was very little difference in the positions of the Liberal and Conservative Parties in the last election.

Liberals campaigned on the following platform:

The recent string of NAFTA decisions in Canada’s favour continue to be valid and must be respected—the United States remains legally obligated to revoke the tariffs and refund, with interest, all duties collected, totalling more than $5 billion. A Liberal government will continue to wage a vigorous legal and political fight with the US government and industry and will continue to consult with the provinces and Canadian industry on the best way to achieve a final and lasting solution.

Page 19 of the Conservative platform says:

A Conservative government will: Demand that the U.S. government play by the rules on softwood lumber. The U.S. must abide by the NAFTA ruling on softwood lumber, repeal the Byrd Amendment, and return the more than $5 billion in illegal softwood lumber tariffs to Canadian producers.

Today we not only have the Conservative government breaking that very election promise, but it is going so far as to legislate its betrayal of the lumber industry, of local communities and workers, not to mention the Canadian electorate.

Despite the strength of our legal position, supported by numerous decisions of international trade tribunals and domestic courts both in Canada and the United States, the government rushed negotiations with an artificial timeline set to maximize the cynical political advantage for the Conservative Party. The Conservative agenda was put ahead of the interests of an industry, which is a significant element of the industrial strength of every region of Canada.

When the Prime Minister stood in the House last spring and outlined the parameters of the agreement with the Americans, he provided very little detail to the House. As we know and as our leader said at the time, the devil is in the details. What little we did know then was enough to convince us that this was a bad deal for Canada and a good deal for the American government and lumber industry.

It was clear on April 27 that the Prime Minister was abandoning Canada's position, pursued by successive Canadian governments and upheld by trade panels at both NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, that our softwood industry was not subsidized. This decision destroys the credibility of the dispute resolution provisions of NAFTA.

The repercussions of this capitulation will be felt not just in the future disputes surrounding the softwood lumber industry, but by many other industries that may face similar allegations from American competitors. It could also encourage other U.S. sectors to ignore trade rules and seek, instead, political decisions in their favour, resulting in increased trade uncertainty, seriously inhibiting investment in key Canadian export industries.

Do not just take our word for it. The Prime Minister has betrayed what he said when he told the Canadian people:

If the rules are simply ignored, then the very basis of a rule-based system is threatened and the future of all Canada-U.S. trading relations could be profoundly affected.

We also predicted in April that we would see draconian measures in the agreement that would punish our industry the minute market conditions in the United States deteriorated. Today, in Bill C-24, we see the creation of an export tax that, at current price levels, is actually higher than the U.S. duties currently being collected. Along with this export tax comes an unfair and unprecedented tax regime that will place a huge administrative burden on Canadian producers. At a time when they are having difficulty meeting their own payroll, the government is forcing them to hire more accountants and auditors.

When the Prime Minister stood in the House in April, we knew that he had left more than $1 billion on the negotiating table, that $1 billion belonging to Canadian companies. We anticipated that this money would end up in the pockets of American lumber barons, who have been constantly harassing the Canadian industry.

Once again we were right, only this time the Prime Minister threw in a wrinkle. The agreement gives $500 million to the American lumber industry to use to fund legal and political attacks against the Canadian industry. Apparently that was not good enough. Instead, another $500 million was left with the White House, in a time when we are heading into the run up for very difficult fall elections, all of this for 24 months of managed trade.

The government has acted in a high handed way with the Canadian industry, giving it an ultimatum, “Accept this deal or the government will abandon you”. The Prime Minister has given it a choice between a bad deal and the back of his hand. Loan guarantees put in place before the last election were taken off the table and the Conservatives threatened to abandon the industry if it chose pursuing its legal rights over accepting a bad deal.

The Conservative government has demonstrated that it will in fact punish the companies that have refused to sign on to this agreement. This includes the imposition of a 19% levy on all refunded duty deposits on the holdout companies. The Liberals believe the government should immediately cease this harassment and treat these companies with the fairness and respect that they are owed.

The Liberal Party has always been committed to supporting our softwood lumber industry. That is why we have proposed a supplementary aid package, modeled on the package put forward by the former Liberal industry minister, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, which includes: $200 million over two years to enhance the forest industry's competitive position, improve its environmental performance and take advantage of growing bio-economies; $40 million over two years to improve the overall performance of the national forest innovation system; $30 million over two years to improve the competitiveness of the workforce, promote upgrading of workplace skills and provide assistance to older workers impacted by forest industry layoffs; and $100 million over two years to support economic diversification and capacity building in communities affected by job losses in the forestry industry.

It is enormously important to support the communities that will be affected not only by this agreement, but by the forestry industry in general.

Communities in Atlantic Canada, in Quebec, in rural regions everywhere—often on the coasts—are affected by this industry to a disturbing extent.

The price of gas, the value of the Canadian dollar, and ultimately the price of softwood lumber on the American market are major factors and they are all behind the rather major crisis that industry is experiencing at present.

That is why we consider it to be so important that the government support not only those industries, but also the workers and communities. They are the ones who will ultimately pay the price for a bad agreement and for a global situation that will certainly lead to layoffs and serious trouble for some companies.

We had also proposed $30 million over two years to develop new markets for Canadian wood products and $200 million over two years to fight the spread of the pine beetle in British Columbia and Alberta forests.

Some forestry industry companies may opt not to sign on to the softwood lumber agreement and will continue to pursue their legal rights both under NAFTA and under domestic courts. The government should immediately make loan guarantees available to them to provide them with the creditworthiness so they will be able to fight to maintain their legal rights before the process simply runs over them, as dictated by the government.

The Canadian forestry industry is facing many difficult years ahead. It will be a difficult winter in this sector. As I said a minute ago, the high value of the dollar, the high cost of energy, the declining price for softwood lumber are among real dangers on the horizon for this industry. That is why we believe the government needs to stand by the industry and not simply bulldoze them into an agreement that many of them have said they would not sign otherwise.

As I said earlier, workers and communities are in urgent need of this government’s support. The industry is already under enormous pressure and needs our government’s basic support.

The minister correctly noted in his comments that the Atlantic provinces benefit from an exemption under this agreement. This was an essential part of the softwood lumber agreements negotiated over the last quarter century because the exemption in Atlantic Canada is based on a different forestry management regime where the vast majority of the land on which lumber is cut, on which logs are harvested, is owned by private landowners.

As the minister noted in his comments correctly, this distinguishes the Atlantic provinces from other provinces where unfair allegations have been made surrounding Crown land, leases, and the cost of stumpage.

The exemption that Atlantic Canada has historically enjoyed is not thanks to the actions of any government but because the American coalition did not petition the U.S. commerce department with allegations of subsidy against the four Atlantic provinces. This is why, in my view, the Maritime Lumber Bureau has done a wonderful job over the last number of years in maintaining this exemption in front of the American courts, in front of the American lumber coalition, and the American government.

Companies in my own riding like Delco Forest Products, for example, or Westwood Industries, or Goguen Lumber are small family businesses that employ hundreds of people in my riding. JD Irving has sawmills in my riding. Hundreds of people are employed in this important industry, and the exemption that Atlantic Canada has always enjoyed is the result of a much different system of land ownership.

That is why, if we are going to be sincere, we have to admit that the exemption that the government has claimed for Atlantic Canada has existed for a quarter of a century and not because of any political intervention from a previous Conservative government when Mr. Mulroney was prime minister or previous Liberal governments. It has existed because, in fact, the land ownership system differentiates to a great extent the four Atlantic provinces from other Canadian provinces.

As I also said earlier, we find this debate difficult because we believe that the government should have supported the industry, should have offered loan guarantees for companies that asked for assistance, and should have continued to pursue the legal route, which, we sincerely believe, would have led to a final decision to settle this question once and for all.

In conclusion, I would like to move the following amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and by substituting the following:

This House declines to proceed with 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, because it opposes the principle of the bill, which is to abrogate the North American Free Trade Agreement, to condone illegal conduct by Americans, to encourage further violations of the North American Free Trade Agreement and to undermine the Canadian softwood sector by leaving at least $1 billion in illegally collected duties in American hands, by failing to provide open market access for Canadian producers, by permitting the United States to escape its obligations within three years, by failing to provide necessary support to Canadian workers, employers and communities in the softwood sector and by imposing coercive and punitive taxation in order to crush dissent with this policy.

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The amendment is in order. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am astonished at the hon. member's statements. He belongs to a party that just about a year ago was willing to consider and accept a deal that was of far less value than the one that our minister and our government has negotiated.

He says that the principle of the bill is to abrogate responsibility. The principle of the bill is to provide stability and certainty for the softwood lumber industry. That is what the bill is all about. That is what our minister has done.

Why do the Liberals and the NDP want to continue to ensure uncertainty in the softwood lumber business in this country, uncertainty that would most assuredly bring continued litigation under U.S. law in courts, challenge after challenge amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in increased legal fees, bring that kind of litigation upon our industry, and bring foreseeable mill closures and job losses to our forest workers in this country? Why would they want to do that?

Everyone knows, even the Liberals and the NDP can grasp this one, that bankers and investors like certainty in any type of commercial or industry sector.

Under their wishes the uncertainty would drive the bankers away, would drive the investors away, and would result in continued litigation, job losses, mill closures and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional legal fees. That is what they want for this country.

This minister and this government want to bring prosperity back to the softwood lumber industry and this agreement does it. The Liberals and the NDP should get behind it and support it.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Cariboo—Prince George said that the previous Liberal government had not accepted a deal and he is right. We declined a deal that was considerably better than the one that the government has now imposed on the softwood lumber industry.

There were two main things that the previous Liberal government would not accept. We would not accept to reward the American lumber coalition with a half billion dollar Canadian tip for having harassed our lumber industry. That for the previous Liberal government was an unacceptable concession, one that this government quickly made.

The other thing which the previous Liberal government had refused to accept was a termination clause that would allow, contrary to what many have claimed, a quick exit from the agreement. As the Quebec industry spokespersons have said, it is an awfully high price to pay, a billion for effectively two years of managed trade.

Those are the things the previous Liberal government would never have accepted and that is why we declined a deal that in fact was better than this one.