House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley has six minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, we continue to press the government to understand the critical nature of splitting off this one significant piece from the bill. It would do several things all at the same time. Most important, it would send a signal to Canadian industry and value-added manufacturers in this country that Parliament cares about the families and workers involved in that industry.

It seems, after hearing the government's comments in defending its practice of putting this one piece into the agreement with Europe, that it is unable to defend its position. That is unfortunate, because whether we agree or disagree on issues, all members are sent to this place with the expectation that they can defend their positions, that they can provide reasons and substance for why they consider one thing or another to be true.

To remind Canadians who have been following this debate, we are asking for a hiving off of the shipbuilding industry from this agreement. Members of Parliament have been receiving mail from constituents from coast to coast to coast, particularly the constituencies in which the few remaining shipyards still operate, expressing their concern. Over the years, this industry has been hammered by agreements that the present government and previous governments have signed, by government policies that slowly squeeze out the very oxygen this industry needs in order to survive.

Recently, my colleague from Burnaby gave me a letter from the Lauzon ship workers' union that said, “We represent CSN-affiliated workers working at the Lévis shipyard. We stand with workers in all Canadian shipyards in supporting your efforts to exclude Canadian shipyards from the Canada-European Free Trade Association Free Trade Agreement”.

This is really important, particularly to our Bloc Québécois colleague, because this speaks to the needs of workers in all provinces, of all workers connected to this industry.

The time has come to protect these workers. If we do not, we are basically saying that this Parliament and our work here are not important. The NDP believes that is unacceptable. We will continue to talk about our disagreement with the government. We have a different perspective on the economy and negotiations.

The Conservative government slips into an ideology far too easily. There is not a trade agreement in the world it would not sign. It negotiates looking backward instead of forward to what needs to be established.

At the very least, to most Canadians the notion that all trade agreements would have a net benefit to the Canadian economy would seem very straightforward and plausible. Yet we see time and again across the table at these negotiations representatives from other countries defend the interests of their nations, protect the industries they believe need protecting and make trade arrangements to the net benefit of their nations. Yet we have to appeal on bended knee. We have to fight tooth and nail with our own government to represent our own industries at the table.

The NDP has been a long and consistent supporter of fair trade. The NDP has been a long and consistent ally of those around the world looking to establish trade agreements that protect the environment, labour relations and standards, and enhance the capacity of our country to trade. We are a trading nation. Time and again we see governments come forward with the idea of sensible trade but present other ideas.

When the Americans negotiated with us and set up caveats for their own shipping industry and steel industry that exempted them from that agreement, Canada had no problem at all accepting that condition of trade and yet made no such considerations for Canada's own industry.

I have some vague recollection of the Conservatives having a little saying in the election, something about Canada first or stand up for Canada. I do not hear it much any more and we do not hear it when the government negotiates trade agreements.

This is an opportunity for Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc members to join the NDP and understand that we can protect and enhance this industry and make it a viable one for future generations. That industry helped build this country. To turn our backs on that industry at this time would only continue the economic ruin that has been put upon this country by the Conservative government. It is time for it to stop now.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley because he has reflected the concerns that our caucus has about the real problems in Bill C-2.

I am the member for the riding of Vancouver East, which includes the port of Vancouver. I can remember the days when we had a great shipbuilding industry in the greater Vancouver area along both sides of Burrard Inlet. The demise of that industry and what is going to happen now under this bill deeply concerns us, as well as the Canadians who have been involved in this important industry for generations. I was taking note of the comments of George MacPherson, the president of the Shipyard General Workers' Federation. He said that the Canadian shipbuilding industry is already operating at about a third of its capacity. He pointed out that with the passage of this trade agreement, Canadian shipbuilding jobs are in serious jeopardy. He said that the government's plan is an outrage.

Would the member comment, in terms of the impact on workers who have built up this industry and have developed those skills only now to see it be lost?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is something to note how difficult those jobs were to create in the first place. If we were to look back through the records of this Parliament and other legislatures across this country when the establishment of shipyards was first debated, it took an enormous amount of effort not only on the part of industry, but also on the part of government, to establish this fine and solid industry.

The expertise that is required to work within this industry is very hard to come by. We know that these workers are in demand around the world. We know that when those talents and that experience leave an area or a country, which has been happening in Canada, it is very hard to attract them back.

If nothing else, it would be a sign of good faith on the part of the government to agree with New Democrats to assist the industry and allow it to have a fair shake, to put it on a level playing field with the industries in other countries around the world with which we compete so that there is a sense of hopefulness within the industry and for the families of the workers in it.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP critic on this issue has shared with us some of the letters that he has received, and one is particularly striking to me. I come from the labour movement originally. This letter is from a disheartened worker who has signed his letter, “Another soon-to-be unemployed shipyard worker”. In his letter, he said, in part:

One of the most surprising things to me as a shipyard worker is that all stakeholders in the industry including owners and operators and unions from coast-to-coast have emphasized the need for the support during the many committee meetings....It's a shame that the Liberal party of Canada feels that it has to remain a puppet of the Conservative government in supporting another bad free trade deal for Canada.

I would like the member's view. I am sure he has seen the same letter. It goes on further, but I do not want to make it partisan here. This letter is from a hurting worker in this country.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this points to an extraordinary contradiction. We almost need a hypocrisy meter in this place to measure how the Liberals are going to react from one day to the next. When people come to our committees they hear the platitudes and the nice words, which are so easy for members of Parliament to say, but when the rubber hits the road and it is time to act, or to fall down, we have seen it far too many times that I am losing track. Is it 62 times? Something like that. Maybe it is 63, but the numbers are getting higher and higher every week of the Liberals supporting the Conservatives' agenda, while in question period and at committees, they are trying to convince Canadians of something different.

Here is an issue on which we clearly need the Liberals to show a bit of backbone. We have that power. This is a minority Parliament. It should conduct itself like one. Otherwise, all members supporting the government should simply stand and say so. That would be more honest and it would show more integrity than what we have seen so far.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again I rise in connection with Bill C-2 , but this time at the report stage. I hardly need mention that we in the Bloc are here first and foremost to defend the interests of Quebec. We also count on the people of Quebec to keep us informed, and at times that makes us almost a substitute for the government. To date the government has never really given us any impact studies to provide an overview of the repercussions of a free trade agreement on the economy of Canada or Quebec as a whole.

But some careful analysis is required. Overall, in Quebec, we see that we will stand to benefit from the free trade agreement with the European free trade association. As hon. members know, pharmaceuticals are hugely important to Quebec. We export and import with one of the countries, Switzerland. As well, nickel is an important mineral and some 80% of trade in nickel is with Norway. Then there is aluminum with Iceland. Those three factors mean that Quebec would stand to gain from this free trade agreement, and would have huge potential opportunities in future.

As we can see from a closer analysis, the shipbuilding industry is an important component of this free trade agreement. The agreement has been in negotiations since 1998. Preparations to sign it have taken 10 years. We know there have been slowdowns, and even interruptions in the negotiations, in large part due to the shipbuilding component. This industry is an important part of the negotiations. Today we see that, whether or not there is a free trade agreement that would do away with duties applicable to ships after 15 years, after an initial 3 year period—so 18 years in all—that is not the only thing that threatens shipbuilding. What does threaten it is the lack of a policy for this industry, particularly on the part of the federal government.

The federal government, for all intents and purposes, has not given any type of subsidy to the shipbuilding industry since 1988. Norway has heavily subsidized this industry, allowing it to modernize, progress and become more productive, while Canada and Quebec were dealing with gaps in the federal government's shipbuilding policy. For one thing, measures to assist the shipbuilding industry were ill-suited. As well, the Quebec government had a refundable tax credit which for some years was considered by Ottawa to be taxable income under the Income Tax Act. That allowed it to claw back 20% to 25% of the assistance that Quebec paid to the shipbuilding industry. Not only did the federal government cut assistance to the industry but it raked in 20% to 25% of the funding and refundable tax credits that Quebec gave the industry.

So, with or without an agreement, if we want to preserve the shipbuilding industry, it is imperative that the government invest heavily in it.

The government appeared before the committee today to testify. It said that the help it is giving to the industry is sufficient, be it structured facility financing or accelerated capital cost allowance. That is far from sufficient.

My NDP colleague stated earlier that his party recently received the support of the union at the Davie shipyard in Lauzon. The union is supporting the NDP attempt to have the shipbuilding industry excluded from this free trade agreement. However, this agreement has been under negotiation for 10 years with countries in the European Free Trade Association. Since the shipbuilding industry is the problem, if it is excluded from this agreement, another agreement will have to be negotiated.

The Bloc Québécois is here to work in the interests of Quebec. Those interests are well served by this agreement in various ways, even in terms of the shipbuilding industry. As we can see, the agreement covers a period of over 18 years. The federal government will definitely change during that time, and a new government would see the need to invest heavily in the shipbuilding industry. If it were to receive nothing from the government one way or another, free trade agreement or not, the shipbuilding industry would probably not survive. We must give it a fighting chance of surviving through direct assistance, which could take many forms.

We often hear about loans and loan guarantees these days. This is important. The government can also provide assistance for lease agreements for boats, which would have the same effect as accelerated capital cost allowance and have an impact on the working capital of the various businesses. We could also talk about funding for the purchase of boats. A responsible government could bring all of these elements together in such a way as to establish a real policy for the shipbuilding industry. The term “responsible”, however, applies less and less to the current government . It is hard to say if it was any more applicable to the previous government. People often learn from their mistakes. Perhaps one day this country will have a truly responsible government to the great benefit of these industries, which make such an important contribution to Canada and Quebec.

In any case, 18 years is a long time. That is enough time for Quebeckers to give themselves their own country, one that will take charge of its shipbuilding industry and its own trade agreements with the rest of the countries on the planet. We would then have the best of all possible worlds.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with a great deal of interest to every word my colleague from Sherbrooke said. As members know, there may be a preliminary vote in the next few days, but the final vote on the decision to remove shipbuilding and shipyards from this agreement will not take place for a few weeks.

Workers in Quebec are unanimously calling on the Bloc Québécois to support the NDP proposal to exclude shipyards from this agreement. Workers in Quebec are very clear. There is no nuance or difference of opinion. Shipbuilding workers in Quebec are very clear that the Bloc Québécois should vote with the NDP.

In the coming weeks, this issue will be raised repeatedly. It will not soon go away, even though that is what the Conservatives would like.

My question is simple. What do workers in Quebec have to do so that the Bloc Québécois supports the NDP's efforts to help shipyard workers in Quebec?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, as soon as I can get away—I will not say from my NDP colleague's incessant questions, but as soon as I can go to my office—I will get in touch with the union. The previous NDP member informed us of the support of the union of shipyard workers in Lauzon. The time on the document indicates that we received it during question period. I spoke earlier about responsibilities, and my primary responsibility is to verify the union's position and expectations and see how we can reach an agreement.

I was an accountant in a former life, and I have worked for unions. When they gave me mandates, I always made sure they could keep their jobs, and that is my goal now.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear my hon. colleague's comments. I have before me a letter from a shipbuilding and marine union, signed by Jamie Vaslet, asking the Liberal Party to support excluding shipbuilding from this agreement.

Why must a union ask this or that political party to protect Canadian jobs? I do not know, but I would like to hear what my colleague has to say.

Despite our political allegiances, I thought that this House would be unanimous and exclude shipbuilding from this agreement in order to protect our Canadian industry. That seems straightforward to me.

Why does my colleague think that some members of this House do not support what we are discussing?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Sherbrooke only has time for a short reply.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is probably referring to a letter of support from a different union.

In Quebec, there are two main shipyards: the Davie Yards and the Groupe Maritime Verreault. I have to admit that we have not spoken directly with the management of these two firms, or with the union.

Furthermore, we have never received a clear indication of their position. However, as the previous member stated, there is still time. Therefore, I will ensure that I obtain the required information and study the impact this could have on the Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement.

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Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I stand today to speak to Bill C-2, yet another free trade agreement, I am concerned for the workers of Hamilton and for Canadian workers as a whole.

Canada has gone through over 20 years of free trade agreements. In my riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, particular the Hamilton East portion, I have watched this seemingly endless parade of companies that have left Hamilton or closed as a direct result of free trade. My observation is that most Canadians do not feel free trade is free at all.

I watched Burlington Street in Hamilton go from a dynamic, bustling centre of manufacturing to a mere shadow of its former self. In fact, the very day the original draft free trade agreement was tabled, the first one between Canada and the United States, Firestone Canada in Hamilton, on the words of that draft agreement, closed its once proud plant on Burlington Street.

We, the labour movement and organizations like the then brand new Council of Canadians warned them, Because most Canadian cities were within 100 miles of the American border, we warned them that with free trade and the removal tariff barriers our plants owned by American companies would move or close.

I take absolutely no satisfaction in having been right. During the first two years of that original free trade agreement, between 1988 and 1990, Ontario lost 524,000 manufacturing jobs. Canada and Hamilton, in particular, quite literally bled jobs to the United States and Mexico.

Hamilton, long known for steel production, was once one of the leading textile manufacturing sites in all of North America. Those plants are long gone. During the past 20 to 25 years, Canada and, to a great degree, much of the free world has been on the track, a track comprised of deregulation and free trade as espoused first by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney.

For evidence, look to today's crisis in the American market, a place where business was conducted in this wild west environment. Now we can see the outcome, the lack of proper regulation or deregulation and the requirement of enforcement. It is almost like the sheriff left town and Wall Street ran rampant with that reckless abandon, which we have become so aware of in the last few months.

Canada once had an auto pact, which protected our market and ensured employment in that important industry and the associated support industries. The Liberals, when in government, let that agreement slip away. Now we not only have cuts to auto plants, but Hamiltonian steelworkers are being laid off. In fact, we are seeing thousands upon thousands of support jobs lost along with those direct manufacturing jobs.

For Hamilton and Hamilton steel plants, this has proven to be devastating. No orders means no work which means layoffs.

As I said before, I can recall in 1988 when the labour movement and other organizations like that newly minted Council of Canadians were warning that this day would come if the Government of Canada signed on to that free trade agreement.

Similar warnings were issued in 1993, regarding NAFTA. The Liberals were at the front with those warnings. In fact, they were warning themselves. They made promises that they would not sign onto NAFTA, which they did shortly after winning that election.

Today Canadian industries are very fragile. Industries like shipbuilding, in particular, need attention from their government. Canada has been known worldwide for the quality of our shipbuilding, but other countries have worked hard to protect their shipbuilding with massive subsidies to aid their development, such as with Norway. Canada has lagged and has not had the comprehensive strategy to protect this important industry.

At committee, the New Democratic Party tried to protect this industry with no less than 16 motions, which were turned back by the chair with the aid of the Liberal Party members present. For the information of the members present today, shipbuilding is exempted from NAFTA.

At committee, the Shipbuilding Association of Canada made it clear that shipbuilding must be removed from the Canada-EU trade agreement. This agreement would reduce Canadian tariffs on ships from 25% to zero over 10 to 15 years. If we allow this to happen, we will lose our market altogether.

Members also need to know that the United States has always protected its shipbuilding industry ever since the Jones bill of 1920. That legislation protects the U.S. capacity to produce commercial ships. The Jones act requires commerce between U.S. ports on inland waters to be reserved for ships that are U.S. built, U.S. owned, registered under U.S. law and U.S. manned. In recent years the United States has implemented a heavily subsidized naval reconstruction program. All of this is to the direct benefit of its shipyards and its U.S. workers.

Where has Canada been? Canada can and must do the same thing. Canada must separate shipbuilding from this free trade agreement.

Finally, the shipbuilding sector must be completely excluded from the agreement, as I have said. The government should immediately put together an enhanced, structured financing facility, along with an accelerated capital cost allowance for this industry. An important component would be a buy Canadian strategy.

We have heard this buy Canadian strategy at a number of levels. We heard it first when the United Steelworkers made representation to the Congress in the United States on the buy American plan.

Within the free trade agreements to which we are now party, there are provisions that allow for a buy Canadian strategy. They allow for municipalities and provincial governments to buy Canadian. There are some limitations to that, but the Conservative government does not seem to want to entertain this option at all. In fact, the so-called free traders of the world raise their arms in concern when it happens, but that could be the very foundation for the salvation of not only shipbuilding, but our manufacturing sector altogether.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member, and I was quite intrigued. He referred to what was supposedly said and discussed in committee. The member was not in committee. I vice-chair the committee. I am surprised how he came up with this information.

He referred to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and took us back well over 20 years. He spoke about how bad trade was with these free trade agreements. Does he think we should not have signed any agreements? We were doing hundreds of millions of dollars in trade 21 to 25 years ago. To the best of my knowledge, today we do on an average day $1.8 billion to $2 billion, which creates jobs.

The most important thing he talked about was shipbuilding. The stakeholders came before our committee, and he was not at committee, and gave us suggestions on how we could make this work. For example, he talked about SFF, the structured financial facility, and the ACCA, the accelerated capital cost allowance. If the government were to incorporate the two, it would become a viable situation for our shipbuilding industry.