Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-2, the Canada-EFTA free trade agreement implementation act.
If passed, this bill would seriously impact my riding of Halifax and could have devastating consequences for Canada's domestic shipbuilding industry. Earlier, my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, was asked by the hon. member for Kelowna—Lake Country what free trade agreement the NDP would support.
I would like to point out that the NDP believes that member nations of the EFTA have strong social-democratic traditions and they are actually ideal trading partners for Canada. They have great human rights records. They have great environmental records. The Canada-EFTA free trade agreement implementation act as a whole is a good piece of legislation. We welcome this kind of trading relationship with these countries. The only issue here is that of shipbuilding.
The trade agreement on which we will be asked to vote contains provisions that would remove one of the only tools remaining that protects our shipbuilding industry from being ravaged by unfair competition from foreign builders. Those same European industries were very generously subsidized until recently.
If this bill passes, in just three short years we would see import tariffs begin to be lowered, allowing an influx of foreign-built ships to enter our market. This change would sound the death knell for shipbuilding and it would significantly damage the economy of Nova Scotia. In the interest of standing up for our Canadian shipbuilding industry and the local shipyard workers whom I represent, I must voice my opposition to this bill without an amendment to protect our shipbuilding industry.
As any Atlantic Canadian will tell us, shipbuilding is not just another industry; it is tied to our nation's history. From the earliest days of Confederation, our wealth of forests and hardy labour created hundreds of wooden ships that helped bring much prosperity to Atlantic Canada. It is well known that in those days people could look out at the harbour and see nothing but a sea of white sails moving goods from the great port of Halifax.
During the first and second world wars, Canada stepped up to build hundreds of new ships, punching above its weight when the need was greatest. Between the wars and after, the industry was fuelled by domestic procurement policies to expand our fleets, and by government investment. Those investments created a robust industry and they made a lot of sense, given our enviable coastlines.
Unfortunately, the importance of the industry has not been as clear to recent governments in Canada. Add to that a series of bad trade agreements and we can see how the industry went from being a top producer to the critical situation in which it finds itself now. For years shipbuilders have been calling for a comprehensive strategy to return the industry to competitive standards. Our shipyards simply cannot compete with the heavily subsidized industries in places like South Korea and Norway.
In 2001 the national partnership project, consisting of members of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada and the shipyard workers, presented a breakthrough report called, “Breaking Through: Canadian Shipbuilding Industry”, after they held a series of consultations across the country. This report is notable because all stakeholders were in agreement about what needs to be done.
In the section, “Issues and Recommendations, Subsidies and Unfair Trade Practices”, the following recommendation was made:
That the Government of Canada: ... resist any requests from other countries to change provisions of the Canadian shipbuilding policy until such time as the Canadian industry has been able to overcome the long-term effects of the subsidy and unfair pricing policies of other countries--
We must remember that this document was produced by shipbuilders and manufacturers, the Shipbuilding Association of Canada and the workers.
This change in provisions is exactly what the CEFTA is asking us to do. Norway has invested heavily in shipbuilding, making it one of the strongest in the world despite its relatively modest share of the world market. Those subsidies increased in the early part of this decade, and although they have been reduced now, they resulted in a strong industry capable of filling a variety of orders and competing on the international stage.
Here in Canada there has been a lack of meaningful investment, resulting in an industry that can only be described as being on life support. This is despite the incredible work of the men and women I represent who work at the Halifax shipyards, and that rich maritime history that I just spoke about. Bill C-2 would effectively “pull the plug” on a struggling industry by removing the only protection that exists for it.
New Democrats have called for two things: first, that shipbuilding be carved out of the CEFTA; and, second, that the government take up the challenge and bring this industry back to full health through a comprehensive and meaningful plan.
I want to thank the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for the hard work he has done to see that this trade agreement is fair. He made every effort in committee to see that the shipbuilding section was removed from the bill. I also want to recognize the work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, my neighbour, who continues his tireless campaign on behalf of Canada's shipbuilding industry.
Having failed to secure a carve out in committee, it is now up to the House to do what is right and take shipbuilding off the chopping block.
To turn once again to the impact of this trade agreement, I would like to reinforce the fact that good jobs are what fuel our economy. As I have said before in this honoured place, one shipbuilding job creates four spinoff jobs. A collapse of this industry, ushered in by this trade agreement, would throw hundreds out of work in Halifax alone, and with the loss of those jobs, there go four supporting positions.
We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people becoming unemployed because of this recession. We need to do whatever it takes to prevent the remaining jobs from being lost. Passing this bill would only accelerate that process.
My party has repeatedly asked government to look ahead, look to the future, and make decisions that will foster the development of a global economy, one that is sustainable economically and environmentally, and where Canada can actually play a lead role. Shipbuilding can be a part of that new economy, first by rejecting just this part of the CEFTA and then through the implementation of a national strategy on the industry that will prepare it to compete with subsidized foreign industries on a level playing field.
Just a few short months ago, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore and I joined shipyard workers. We joined them along with Independent and Liberal MPs to show support for the shipbuilding industry and call for attention and investment from the government. It was a cold day in Halifax harbour but we all gathered, despite party lines, to say this was an industry that was important to us.
As we debate Bill C-2, workers are actively calling on us to take the support that was voiced in January and turn it into action by carving out shipbuilding from this agreement. As one of the hundreds of letters from shipyard workers makes clear, “All stakeholders in the industry, including owners, operators and unions from coast to coast have emphasized the need for support during the many committee meetings that were held on the use of free trade talks”.
These letters call on Liberal members of the House to withhold their support for this bill until this section is removed. I share their concern and hope that all members will fight for their jobs and for a truly Canadian industry.
In closing, I would like to share another fact about Halifax and its tradition of shipbuilding. It is a fundamental connection to the sea that we have. After the 1917 Halifax explosion decimated much of the city and its industrial sector, one of the first things to be rebuilt was the smokestack at the Halifax shipyard. Everyone could see at the bottom of it stamped “1917”. This underscores the importance of the yards to my community and the central role that community has played in our history.
Recently, that powerful symbol was torn down. At this time in our nation's history, when we are witnessing the ongoing collapse of our manufacturing and forestry industries, let us not add shipbuilding to that list by signing a bad deal. Let us not allow the tearing down of that smokestack in Halifax be a symbol for the future of the industry itself.