Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak to the issue before the House for a number of reasons. We are debating Bill C-2, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the States of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland), the Agreement on Agriculture between Canada and the Republic of Iceland, the Agreement on Agriculture between Canada and the Kingdom of Norway and the Agreement on Agriculture between Canada and the Swiss Confederation. This bill has been reintroduced. It was formerly known as Bill C-55, enabling legislation of the Canada-EFTA agreement signed in January 2008 by the present government during the 39th Parliament.
One of the reasons I am pleased to speak to this issue is that the bill was initially introduced by my predecessor in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway, the former minister of international trade.
I would like to take a rather different approach to a proper trade policy for Canada, vis-à-vis the policy that was being pursued in the previous Parliament.
I would like to begin my remarks by talking about the opportunity this legislation gives us to analyze what would be an appropriate trade policy for Canada in 2009 and as we go forward.
In my view and the view of our party, the principles that ought to be attached to an intelligent policy on trade at the present moment and in the years ahead are based on the following:
We must base our policy on the concept of fair trade, not free trade. We must base our policy on the notion of having balanced and reciprocal agreements, that is, agreements that actually respect the principles enshrined in the agreements and which guarantee that both countries have equal and untrammelled access to each other's markets. I will speak about this a bit later and we will see that a number of our recent agreements have failed in this regard.
Our trade policy ought to be based upon a foundation of a strong Canadian industrial strategy; that is, we profit best on the world stage and in our trade relationships when we have strong industrial sectors in Canada and approach trade from a position of strength for our Canadian businesses and workers.
We also need to build our policy on a position of a sound agricultural sector and well-functioning professional and service sectors. In other words, we need to build our trade policy on a strong foundation of a well-functioning and healthy domestic economy.
Unfortunately, this trade agreement does not meet the test of the principles I have just outlined. It falls short in several key areas.
As has been pointed out by several of the eloquent speakers who have preceded me, the essential problem with this piece of legislation is that it would phase out tariffs. This would put at risk a couple of very key and pivotal sectors of the Canadian economy, including the shipbuilding and agricultural sectors.
To elaborate more upon the concept of free trade, and fair trade as a distinction, I want to explain what I mean when I say fair trade. What we in the New Democratic Party mean by that is that we must ensure that we enter into agreements with other nations that respect the principle of fair wages for their workers and respect the principle of avoiding unfair subsidies to their industries. I will speak about this particular aspect with respect to shipbuilding and what Norway has done in contrast to what the Canadian government has done over the last decade.
Any agreement must be based on the concept of true reciprocal access to each other's markets and enforce standards in environmental protection, safety and employment standards.
If we enter into trade agreements with countries that do not have respect for each and every one of these principles, then we put at risk Canadian domestic sectors and we do a disservice not only to Canadian businesses but also to the workers they employ.
Agriculture and shipbuilding are two pivotal key sectors that are put at risk by the provisions in the agreement. Both sectors are particularly important to British Columbia, the province from which I come.
Agriculture is a very important industry in the province of British Columbia. I see a number of MPs who joined me last night at an event put on by the dairy producers. Dairy production is a very important part of British Columbia's agricultural sector. British Columbia has the third largest production of dairy products in Canada. It employs thousands of families. It is a clean and renewable sector. It is an important part of our domestic food supply. We need to ensure that this sector remains healthy in Canada so that we have a stable food supply for our country not only today but in the years ahead.
Shipbuilding is an industry which my colleagues have spoken about. It has a long proud tradition in this country from the east coast to the west coast. On the west coast the shipbuilding industry has been under a severe strain for the last several decades. This bill, unfortunately, would do nothing to help in that regard.
Essentially, this legislation would reduce tariffs on ships from 25% to 0% over a period of 10 or 15 years, depending on the types of products. One category of ships would go down to 0% right away. This provision refers to very large ships in the category of post-Panamax, which are ships that are not able to go through the Panama Canal.
If this bill were to pass, the Canadian shipbuilding industry, which we want to encourage to build ships, would have to compete with shipbuilding industries in other countries that have been supported by their governments in a manner that the Canadian government has not done domestically. This would put our domestic shipbuilders at great risk. Specifically, our analysis has shown that Norway has had a great head start in terms of support for its domestic shipbuilding industry and with that head start, Norway is able to produce ships which, unfortunately, Canadian shipbuilders would have a difficult time competing against.
Andrew McArthur of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada has made a compelling case on behalf of Canadian shipbuilders to have this industry explicitly excluded from this bill, as it is from NAFTA, I would point out. He notes that Norway's world-class shipbuilding industry is not subsidized today, but it does owe its present competitiveness to generous government support in years past.
This is not just a position that is taken by our party. It is a position that has been validated by industrial sectors and business people in civil society in Canada.
It is precisely the type of policy that has allowed Norway to become the world-class player that it is today. This is precisely what the federal government, once again, has failed to do by not supporting Canada's shipbuilding industry.
In terms of British Columbia, recently the current federal government and the present Liberal government in British Columbia declined to stand up for our shipbuilding industry. The example is British Columbia ferries. Hundreds of jobs were lost by the shortsighted government investment in a German shipbuilding industry rather than supporting British Columbia jobs for building ferries in B.C. coastal waters. Our party has asked that the import duties on three super C-class B.C. ferries built in Germany be entirely sent to support the shipbuilding industry in British Columbia. This very reasonable request has been refused by the current government. It would go a long way to providing some much needed money to kick-start the shipbuilding industry in British Columbia.
Shipbuilding and agriculture, besides being two key industries, are industries that not only provide good jobs but they are the jobs of the future and are sustainable.
In terms of shipbuilding, not only does it provide good, well-paying jobs upon which families can be raised, it also has multiplier effects and spin off jobs in a lot of areas in our economy, which I would think all members of the House would be interested in supporting, including research and technology, development, skilled trades, professional designing, engineering and other types of jobs that are not only the jobs of the future, but are jobs that our children will want to be trained for and occupy in the years ahead.
It is very important, when we talk about developing a trade policy that works in the years ahead, that we pay homage not only to the concept of having access to markets, but also one that promotes a strong national economy at the same time. I think I mentioned earlier that I would speak of an example where a previously poorly negotiated trade agreement resulted in us not getting the access that was promised. This example is illustrated by the softwood lumber agreement, where not only do our producers end up having to forfeit billions of dollars in duties to the United States, but at the end of the day we do not have the untrammelled access to the market we were promised by the agreement.
In my home province of British Columbia forestry is an incredibly important sector that at present is suffering in a terrible way. An almost record number of mills have shut down. I have been told by both trade unions and representatives of the business sector that they cannot remember the forestry sector being in such poor shape in living memory. Those who have studied the issue compare it to the worst state since the Depression. Tens of thousands of workers and their families have been laid off. We simply have a problem that is harming the economy of British Columbia and Canada, and part of its roots can be traced to poor trade agreements.
It is so critical, when we do negotiate trade agreements like the present one, that we ensure we get them right. In this case, we have to ensure that the interests of our domestic industries, like shipbuilding, agriculture and any other industrial sectors, affected by this are taken into account and taken care of so we do not subject them to further erosion, job loss and difficulties in terms of bringing their product to market, which is what this bill would do.
There are some good things in the bill. Entering into trade agreements with progressive countries that have respect for their workers and the environment, like the types of countries covered by this agreement do, is a good step. However, the legislation can be improved. In that respect, I would ask that the government listen to the remarks made by my colleagues and all members of the House, who seem to consistently point out the same problems, and ensure we develop and enforce policies that will ensure we have a strong shipbuilding industry, on both the west and east coasts, and a strong agricultural sector across the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and wherever we have vibrant food production in this country.
We need to ensure we have a vibrant forestry sector and industrial and professional classes in our country, which will ensure we create the jobs that are not only so needed today in this time of economic crisis, but which will also form the basis for a strong economy in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.
There is some money in the budget for shipbuilding, and it is pleasing to see that. While that is a good start, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, it is far too little. There is a bit of money for some Coast Guard vessels. There is a bit of money to replace some aging infrastructure, including some wharves. However, in terms of a true Canadian policy that will kick-start and sustain our shipbuilding industry, the budget simply does not do that.
I would encourage the government and all members of the House to pay attention to this, because we all have an interest in developing a vibrant Canadian economy in this regard.
George MacPherson, the president of the Shipyard General Workers Federation of British Columbia has stated the following:
The Canadian shipbuilding industry is already operating at about one-third of its capacity. Canadian demand for ships over the next 15 years is estimated to be worth $9 billion in Canadian jobs. Under the FTAs with Norway, Iceland, and now planned with Korea and then Japan, these Canadian shipbuilding jobs are in serious jeopardy. In these terms, this government's plan is sheer folly and an outrage.
That is from someone who is involved intimately with the shipbuilding industry in our country. The House would do well to follow and listen to his warnings in this regard.
Again, Mr. Andrew McArthur from the Shipbuilding Association for the management side takes a similar view. He says, “We have to do something to ensure shipbuilding continues”.
The easiest thing is to carve it out from EFTA, the present legislation before the House, and if members do one thing, it is this. They should convince their colleagues in government to extend the ship financing facility, make it available to Canadian owners in combination with the accelerated capital cost allowance and we will have as vibrant an industry as exists.
When we have the unique situation of both the industry businesses as well as representatives of the workers joining and meeting minds on this issue, it would well behoove the members of the House to pay attention.
It would be my great hope that the members of the House would join together and urge the government to amend the legislation, which, once again, does go some distance in arriving at an agreement that may derive benefits for our country and improve the legislation.
In the case of the government, the previous minister has stated that the shipbuilding industry is of strategic importance to the sovereignty of this nation. Our defence minister , in a press release last summer stated that the “government recognizes the challenges being faced by the shipbuilding industry and is taking real action to help both in the short and longer term”. He said that as a marine nation, Canada needed a viable shipbuilding industry to support our sovereignty.
Those are good words and I hope the government backs up those good words with policies and actions that are consistent with that rhetoric.
It is vital in this legislation that we heed not only the comments made by members of the House, both within and outside the House, but that we pay heed to the comments of the industry and to the interests of the workers and that we continue to work toward a policy that will create the kind of economy that will serve us in the future.
My colleague from Halifax had an all party press conference in Halifax at a shipyard. Once again, this underlines the fact that all parties of the House ought to be interested, as is my party, in developing and reinvigorating a shipbuilding industry that can derive and produce benefits for this country.
Reference has been made to the Jones act in the United States. which has been in place since the 1920s and which the United States has studiously refused and resisted abolishing, including during the NAFTA negotiations. That act requires the United States to have American built, American registered, American staffed vessels operating on intracoastal waters in the United States. That is sound policy for the United States and it is a policy that we should be pursuing in Canada as well. Once again, it is a principle that, unfortunately, the legislation before the House does not respect.
I hope members of the House would join me in standing up for a strong, vibrant Canadian shipbuilding industry, a strong and vibrant agricultural industry and fair trade policies upon which we can continue Canada's proud tradition as a trading nation.
Those are my comments. I would be delighted to entertain any questions that any members of the House may have.