Madam Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to this motion, because I am proud of the Canadian forest sector. I know how important it is to hundreds of communities, small and large, across the country and I am concerned about the future of our forest industry.
However, I must say, off the top, that I cannot support this motion put forward by my Conservative colleagues. Their former government is equally to blame for this crisis, and for them to play partisan politics with people's livelihoods is something I cannot condone.
My riding has the complete range of forest industry operations. There is the big Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar; big Interfor sawmills in Castlegar and Grand Forks; Kalesnikoff's more specialized sawmill at Thrums; the ATCO plywood veneer plant at Fruitvale; the Vaagen Brothers mill at Midway that processes small dimension logs; the family-run Son Ranch just south of Eholt; pole mills at Nakusp community forests and woodlots; and Greenwood Forest Products in Penticton that produces wall panelling and edge-glued laminated panels; and Structurlam which the minister mentioned in his speech just now, a continental leader in the manufacture of glulam beams and cross-laminated timber panels that are at the heart of the large wood building revolution. As well, there are all of the fallers and truck loggers, and the whole logging sector that supplies logs for these mills.
It is a long list, and I hope I have not left anyone out. It is repeated many times over in many ridings across Canada, in communities big and small, from Campbell River to Cornerbrook. More than 200 communities across rural Canada depend on the forest industry for at least half of their base income.
Across my riding today, I see a forest industry that is innovative and efficient, each mill specializing in some niche that will allow it to survive and, hopefully, thrive. I imagine that is the case throughout the forests of Canada. The forest industry is critical to the Canadian economy and to the hopes and dreams of thousands of hard-working families across this country.
In British Columbia alone, it contributes $12 billion to the economy every year, and $2.5 billion in direct government revenue. It creates 145,000 British Columbia jobs; one in every 16 jobs in British Columbia. Across Canada, the forest sector contributes more than $20 billion every year to our real GDP.
Canada is a world leader in sustainable forest management. Our forests account for 40% of the world's forests certified as sustainably managed, the largest area of third-party certified forest in the world. Canada has become a leader in the use of biomass energy, using waste and residues from forest manufacturing practices to power mills across the country.
However, the industry has suffered in the past few decades. A vast pine beetle epidemic swept across B.C. in the last decade, killing trees throughout the interior. That epidemic has now moved into Alberta and is threatening the forest industry there. Catastrophic wildfires burned over a million acres of forest in British Columbia this summer, and climate predictions tell us that these hot, dry, and smoky summers will only happen more frequently in the future. That, of course, has reduced the annual allowable cuts for these mills. Mills that were already suffering from the pine beetle epidemic now have even less forest to access.
Then there is the softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the United States that has pressured many mills to close in the last 10 to 15 years. I will talk more about softwood lumber at the end. I just want to say that in my riding that dispute resulted in a lot of job losses: the Weyerhaeuser mill in Okanagan Falls closed in 2007, putting 200 people out of work; and the closure of the mill at Slocan hit that small community hard. In fact, during the years of the Harper Conservative government, Canada lost over 134,000 jobs in the forestry sector, including about 21,000 jobs in British Columbia, 40,000 jobs in Ontario, and 41,000 in Quebec.
I would like to spend the next part of my speech talking about the positive ways to give the forest industry a boost in Canada. An obvious strategy to mitigate the losses from the softwood dispute is to develop markets outside the United States. We have been working on increasing our share in the Asian market, particularly in China.
The minister mentioned some recent efforts there. British Columbia exporters have been in China for over 10 years, though, and doing quite well. However, those efforts have plateaued because we are up against Russian competition that can simply move products to the Chinese border by train. With the low value of the Russian ruble, it is very difficult for Canadian companies to compete from the other side of the Pacific, for the foreseeable future. That is what I hear from the industry in British Columbia.
As an aside, lumber prices are so high because of the softwood lumber dispute that builders on the east coast of North America are starting to turn to European markets such as Romania and Germany to supply their needs. It is crazy. I think a better strategy in the mid-term is to expand our domestic markets through innovative new wood products and new ways to use wood in buildings.
As I mentioned earlier, in my home town of Penticton, there is a company called Structurlam that creates glulam beams and cross-laminated timber panels that can be used to construct large buildings entirely out of wood. The company just completed an 18-storey project at the University of British Columbia, Brock Commons, the tallest wood building in the world. The only steel and concrete in the building is in the elevator shafts. As the parts were pre-built off-site, Brock Commons took only 66 days to construct. That is 18 stories in just two months. The UBC project used 1.7 million board feet of B.C. lumber. Structurlam gets its lumber locally at mills such as Kalesnikoff, so the benefits spread through the region.
I was happy to see that the government included some money in the latest budget to help this innovative part of the forest industry grow. The minister mentioned that as well. Canadian companies are real leaders in this new technology in North America, but they need to expand to maintain that lead.
With this in mind, I have tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-354, which promotes the use of wood in government infrastructure buildings. This bill asks the government to assess the material options for large buildings, balancing the overall dollar cost of the project and the impact of its greenhouse gas footprint. That way we can decide whether wood, concrete, steel, or a combination of those materials is best for the building.
This bill is not meant to exclude non-wood materials but simply to ask the government to look at these new wood technologies that can be used to create beautiful, safe, and environmentally sound buildings. I was happy to hear from the concrete industry a couple of days ago that it has almost exactly the same ask of the government. It was not, of course, asking for the government to use more wood in buildings; but it was asking the government to use the same lens to look at the lifetime costs of the materials and the carbon footprint of the project when building infrastructure.
I believe that this process would result in more large wood buildings being constructed by the federal government. Many of them could be hybrids, of course, built with concrete and steel as well. This would have three positive impacts on the forest industry. It would stimulate the growth of this exciting new technology, keeping Canada ahead of the pack in North America; it would help all the players in the local forest industry to weather the difficulties they are facing through the softwood lumber dispute; and it would be taking real action to meet Canadian goals in the fight against climate change.
The forestry sector is facing serious challenges in Canada: a future with declining wood supply, more catastrophic fires, insect epidemics due to climate change, and rising costs associated with trade disputes with the United States. I want to turn now to that trade dispute, the softwood lumber dispute with the United States.
About year ago, on October 17, 2016, in this place we debated a similar Conservative motion that specifically focused on softwood lumber. The motion urged the government to take all necessary steps to prevent a trade war with the United States over softwood lumber exports. I supported this previous motion, of course, because for the many thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on this important industry, it is imperative that Canada secure a fair deal with the United States, a deal that respects our regional differences and protects high-quality Canadian forestry jobs.
However, a year later, here we are. The Canadian government continues to fail in its ability to get a deal. The industry has been hit by the U.S. Department of Commerce with massive, unfair tariffs reaching as high as 27%. These tariffs and our government's inability to secure a trade deal have led and will continue to lead to devastating job losses and damage to this vital Canadian industry.
A report released by The Conference Board of Canada at the end of May 2017 stated that the U.S. softwood lumber duties will result in the loss of 2,200 jobs and a $700 million reduction in Canadian exports over the next two years. Softwood lumber is a vibrant part of Canada's forest sector, and as I mentioned, for many rural communities it is the backbone of the economy.
According to Canada's labour force survey, in 2015 the forest industry counted for 300,000 direct and indirect jobs, compared to more than 400,000 jobs in 2003. Hundreds of sawmills across Canada have been shuttered, taking with them high-quality, well-paid jobs.
Today, the softwood lumber industry is on the verge of more job losses. If we consider such factors as the crash of the U.S. housing markets and the other environmental impacts I mentioned, our already hard-hit industry will be further devastated. Canadian producers and workers need a new softwood lumber agreement that will bring fairness and predictability.
This dispute first began back in 1982. For 35 years, the American industry has argued that the Canadian producers benefit from subsidization, which is a claim that has been defeated time and time again in trade tribunals. I think it has been 14 or 15 times.
Over the years, there have been several managed trade agreements, but upon their expiration Canadian exports have seen more duties applied, and Canada has spent approximately $100 million in legal fees to defend our position. While it is true that Canada has consistently won tribunal warnings under the free trade agreement, NAFTA, and the WTO, which found that U.S. tariffs were unjustified, Canada has lost tens of thousands of jobs. I find it extremely disingenuous that the government touts these so-called tribunal challenges as wins. However, I am quite certain that the people who lost their jobs due to poorly negotiated agreements are thoroughly unimpressed with them.
I also find it extremely concerning that Americans are hell-bent on eliminating NAFTA's chapter 19, the dispute resolution mechanism that has protected Canada against those challenges for so long. After the previous agreement expired in 2001, the U.S. levied $5.4 billion in duties on Canadian imports. This was money that should have stayed in Canadians' pockets, but instead was given to the American industry. It was the beginning of a decade of massive job losses in the Canadian industry.
Soon after the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they negotiated a new agreement with little or no consultation with Canadian stakeholders. The result was a very controversial agreement that many argue represented a sellout of Canadian interests. That agreement took $50 million from Canadian industry to create a binding dispute settlement system whereby the U.S. was able to bring more actions against Canada. Perhaps most egregiously, the agreement allowed the U.S. to keep $1 billion of the duties it illegally levied on Canadian producers. Canadians were furious with the 2006 SLA. When the Conservatives brought it to Parliament in the form of Bill C-24, the NDP argued vehemently against the agreement.
When we look back at this agreement, it is fair to say that the Conservatives caved to American interests. Today, it is imperative that the Liberals do not do the same, and yet, considering the lack of leadership they have shown during the NAFTA renegotiations, I fail to see any change between our past and current governments.
As we know, the 2006 agreement was renewed in 2012 and expired last October. Again, after the Liberal government failed to negotiate a new agreement, the Liberals seemed to spend more time denying their own responsibilities and blaming the previous Conservative government rather than ensuring forest industry workers had the job security they so desperately needed.
Despite the Prime Minister's highly flaunted bromance with former president Barack Obama, the Liberals broke yet another one of their own commitments and failed to get a deal done before the time ran out.
Now we must negotiate with President Trump, whose administration has moved to hit our softwood lumber industry with even more tariffs. As with the huge hit lumber companies took in 2006, our industry is again reeling, and it is the forestry workers who will suffer most. After years of being unable to negotiate a fair deal, Canadians are left feeling unsure and, quite frankly, abandoned by their government. There seems still to be no path forward.
After two months of foot-dragging, the government introduced a compensation package, which the NDP welcomed, but I must point out that it contained nothing to improve EI benefits for workers who lost their jobs because of this dispute. The $867 million support package was a good short-term measure for industry and forestry companies; however, forestry workers need long-term solutions.
While many concede that another managed trade deal is better than more costly litigation, there is something inherently unfair about the fact that, despite continued findings that Canada is not in the wrong, we continue to negotiate agreements that are clearly in the interests of the U.S. industry.
Many witnesses expressed a desire to see Canada and the U.S. reach a negotiated settlement, one that would work for all our regions, but we also heard in committee, very clearly, that people do not want to see another bad deal. In Quebec, for example, they made a lot of changes in their forestry practices, and any new agreement must recognize these and other regional differences. A one-size-fits-all solution simply will not do.
In the spring of 2016, the Standing Committee on International Trade held meetings on the softwood lumber agreement and submitted a report to Parliament. Sadly, one important voice we did not get to hear at all at the committee was that of labour.
The United Steelworkers, which represents some 40,000 forestry workers, has laid out several requirements for what it would like to see happen. First, it wants to see the creation of a provincial forest community restoration fund, to be invested in workers, forest-dependent communities, and forest health. It wants fair access to the U.S. lumber market, and it discourages a new quota system. It also wants a guarantee that Canadian producers will have the same access to the U.S. market as other countries will enjoy.
I appreciate the Steelworkers' perspective because it represents the workers' point of view. These three things would help give workers greater job security and strengthen the industry instead of weakening it.
In the committee's final report, there were five recommendations made to the government, including that it get a deal done that serves Canadian interests, that it consult with big and small producers, and that any new deal respect regional differences.
I want to raise an issue I have seen more of recently, due to the NAFTA renegotiation process, one that has affected many aspects of the trading relationship Canada has held with our American neighbours. That is, it is an extremely unbalanced and abusive relationship. Repeatedly, whether it has been the 35 years we have argued over softwood lumber, or the nearly 30 years we have had a bilateral and trilateral trade agreement with the Americans, consecutive Canadian governments have continually negotiated bad deals. Perhaps this has to do with the size, strength, and wealth of the United States, but I cannot dismiss this huge lack of leadership and apparent cowardice and weakness shown by consecutive federal governments.
We often speak of political will in this place, so when I see Canadian producers being hit with U.S. tariffs of around 27% in forestry or 300% in aerospace, when I see mills and manufacturing plants being shut down right across Canada, and when I see thousands of people's lives at risk and jobs lost, I have to say that something is wrong. The way we negotiate trade deals is wrong.
I hope the government understands the gravity of what these job losses mean in our communities. Thousands of people have no job to go to and no more paycheques to bring home. Families are worried about how to pay the rent or make the next mortgage payment. I urge the government to act in the interests of those whose jobs are on the line. That means getting the right deal and working collaboratively with the communities.
If the Liberal government is serious about holding out for a good deal, instead of signing a bad one tomorrow, then it owes Canadians more transparency and openness about how it will help Canadians and Canada's industry weather the impending trade storm. Canadians deserve answers from the government, not more empty promises and hollow words.