Madam Speaker, it is unfortunate that the official opposition has to look at the existing trade world and support Bill C-35, updating the Special Import Measures Act and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act, although we believe that this government needs to give much greater and earlier consideration to the impact on Canadian consumers when it is weighing the merits of imposing countervailing duties.
After all, the first principle of government is to protect the well-being of its Canadian citizens, which to me includes law-abiding Canadian companies.
Why do I say unfortunate?
As long ago as 1904 Canada developed the world's first anti-dumping legislation. Over the years since then Canada has evolved into one of the world's leading trading nations. Canada's trade legislation has been changed many times, including changes to the Special Import Measures Act, or SIMA, needed to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT.
But after those piecemeal changes there has been no overall public review of the legislation to ensure that it still serves the needs of Canadian businesses and industry, as well as the needs of the Canadian consumer.
It has been a couple of years since the finance minister asked two standing committees of this House, namely the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and also the Standing Committee on Finance, to review the Special Import Measures Act and make recommendations to the government regarding any changes needed.
Although this was not my critic area during this period of time, I understand that fairly extensive joint hearings were held by subcommittees of both groups, which reported back to their committees. The government has now acted on the committees' recommendations by bringing forward the legislation before us, namely Bill C-35.
Some of the major interested parties which attended the hearings of the subcommittees were representatives of the steel industry, which has recently been subjected to major dumping by steel producers outside North America.
At a time when large parts of the world are suffering major economic reversals, we can expect many nations to export whatever commodities they can, including steel, and to sell to countries like Canada and the U.S.A. in a desperate attempt to prop up their sagging economies at home.
During the subcommittees' hearings Canadian steel producers wanted the Canadian government to get tough with American producers. It is certainly within the power of the Canadian government to do so. It could make it more difficult and costly for U.S. importers to meet SIMA demands and it could get the Canadian international trade tribunal to find in favour more often of Canadian firms for example through making new rules or changing the emphasis and the interpretation of the existing rules.
The question has to be raised as to who will benefit and who will be hurt. If Canada moves toward tougher laws and stronger restrictions on international trade versus easing restrictions and working toward not only so-called free trade but, more important, fair trade , nobody can be certain which way our major trading partners will jump if Canada starts getting tougher with anti-dumping and anti-subsidy laws. Would legislators be likely to recognize how counterproductive such measures could be? Or would they, as appears to be happening today with the American states of Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota, see such actions as an excuse to retaliate against this or that sector of the nearly $1 billion per day of trade between our two countries?
Given that Canada is more dependent on exports than the U.S.A. it could be foolhardy to try to find out, creating what would amount to a head on collision between a logging truck and a motorcycle. I do not need to spell out to my colleagues in the House which vehicle would represent Canada or the relative amounts of damage which Canada and U.S. economies could suffer.
I am not an economist but I am very definitely a free trader. In the long run I believe it would be very effective to identify downstream U.S. users of Canadian imports to identify who gets hurt by U.S. anti-dumping and subsidy legislation. Let us take for example the softwood lumber deal which was instrumental in raising U.S. housing prices. The problem is that certain groups are very well organized and can mount a much more effective U.S. lobby effort than other groups can.
In the case of Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota if lower Canadian pork and beef prices at least partly due to our lower dollar were to save money for American consumers it is safe to bet in the real world that the American state governments and the American federal government would hear a lot more quickly and a lot louder from U.S. pork producers than from the U.S. consumer.
This situation reveals another reason why it is unfortunate that we are here today with regard to Bill C-35. For more than a week now state governments across the northern U.S.A. have been using state troopers to stop transport trucks carrying live Canadian hogs and steers to U.S. markets.
When I first came to parliament in 1993 in my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap there were to the best of my recollection about five commercial hog producers around the community of Lumby alone. Today I am sad to say the last one is closing.
Recently television reporters have been pretty well making a joke out of the fact that hog growers in the province of Quebec are so desperate that they blockaded Highway 20 between Quebec City and Montreal with hay and a number of pigs in an effort to call attention to their plight and to get some help from their provincial government.
From the Fraser Valley in B.C. right across Canada to Quebec it is no light decision, it is no small or laughing matter when pork producers are shut down. For one thing these folks are not just a bunch of good old boys in bib overalls chewing on a stick of hay. Today's commercial hog barns involve quite major capital investments with a large size and computerized feeding and record keeping. If you wanted to buy a couple of so-called piggies to raise in your small family farm you could drive your pick-up truck to one of those growers and he could take you along the cement floor pens where each age and weight from the little wieners right up to the finished hogs are grouped by themselves. He could tell you from his records exactly how much feed and other costs he has committed to each of those groups and what price he needs from you to cover the costs and to make a little profit.
Sadly today he can also tell you that for all his hard work he is no longer able to make any profit. Therefore many hog producers are bringing all those animals to market weight and selling off their breeding stock and going out of business. Their one hope may be to order a big transport truck, load the live animals on board and ship them across the border into the United States where the higher U.S. dollar might offer our farmers some hope of saving their farms.
That is going to leave Canada open to the same kind of charges. Bill C-35 was designed to allow us to charge non-Canadian businesses for dumping and selling the product in the country for less than it costs to produce. Such charges are going to take time to investigate. Meanwhile Canada's only apparent choice will be to bring charges against the U.S.A. under dispute resolution mechanisms of NAFTA or the World Trade Organization.
Meanwhile what is happening to all those animals and the farmers who own them? If those closely monitored hogs are brought to finished weight, their owners are going to have to lay out even more cash to keep paying for feed while the dispute drags on. Now the farmers are going to have to face bills from their transport companies because they cannot drive a truck for free, and even though many farmers have already achieved some virtual integration by raising the feed for the animals, they are not likely to own a transport truck.
One thing to be learned from the situation is that the Canadian industry clearly has a major interest in helping U.S. consumers get better organized. It is American consumers who could be the major beneficiary of cheaper Canadian commodities entering the American market, if we really do have free trade. Perhaps the Canadian government has a role to play in helping to accurately inform consumers both in the U.S. and in Europe. Certainly that would not be an unfair trade practice to tell the truth about Canadian products.
Let us look at the Canadian exports of forest products and the nasty role played by certain so-called environmental groups trying to destroy European markets for Canadian forest companies. These so-called environmental groups are subsidized by the Canadian government with tax dollars paid in part by the forest industry and its employees. Despite our world leading expertise by many sectors of the Canadian economy, for example, forestry, mining, communications and aerospace, many times our federal government can act like babes in the woods over international trade deals. If we are going to run with the so-called big dogs, we have to do more than just bark once in a while.
Specifically, the federal government did not look down the road and accurately assess the implications if we stood up and challenged the U.S.A. on the softwood lumber deal, facing the worst case scenario and saying almost anything is likely better than this massive bureaucratic meddling in our multibillion softwood industry by a bunch of folks who are more at home dealing with chicken or egg marketing boards.
Today we have literally millions of dollars in added costs for softwood lumber producers as they have to ensure such non-market related factors as their exports do not exceed 28% of their entire year quota in any one quarter. This is regardless of the fact that we can face burning hot, dry summers like this summer where loggers were banned from the British Columbia forests for months due to the extreme fire hazards. Loggers can be banned from the bush for many weeks every spring because logging roads are so soft when the frost is coming out and the load restrictions have to be enforced. The softwood lumber deal only applies to exports from four provinces so producers can move a plant to a neighbouring province and not be subject to any quota whatsoever. This is a bad deal.
In the bill before us today both the SIMA and international trade tribunal will be amended in line with the recommendations produced after the joint committee hearings. My colleagues in finance and international trade heard testimony from the departments, academics and industry.
I want to praise one important aspect in the legislation before us today. It is the clarification of provisions on disclosing confidential information that is revealed in the course of investigations about dumping and subsidies and new penalties for making wrongful use of that information. The kind of expert testimony which could be revealed in the course of these investigations could do major damage to the companies involved. It is critical for the information to be protected. Trying to determine when bad trade practices have hurt existing Canadians producers or have prevented development of a Canadian industry can be extremely complex.
For an example, the city of Vernon where I have my riding office used to be the site of major canners of fruits and vegetables and also for the major production of jams and jellies. This is no longer the case. It would certainly be a major project trying to determine whether these industries died due to unfair international trade or because of unfair policies created by politicians from Ontario and Quebec who have stacked so much federal legislation against the interests of the west.
For another such example in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia a lot of growers produce tree fruits. American fruit growers are allowed to export into Canada certain fruits with some allowable residues of pesticides which Canadian fruit growers are not allowed to use at all. Is that a fair trade practice? I do not think so. The tree fruit growers tell me nothing is being done to help them. Should they blame the growers in the U.S.A. or should they blame Ottawa? I do not have too much doubt as to who they should be blaming.
Both the provincial and federal governments are now being pressed to provide subsidies to B.C. tree fruit growers. Instead many of their problems are due to bad policies made right here in Ottawa.
Let us take another example of the pinewood nematode. It is a little bug that lives in Canadian softwood and can be carried between trees by beetles. Our climate is such that this pinewood nematode basically cannot multiply enough to kill any trees. In the 1980s British Columbia was exporting in the vicinity of a billion dollars worth of softwood into the European market every year.
Suddenly several European nations, which by curious coincidence also produced softwood lumber, decided to start demanding that Canadian companies must kiln dry softwood lumber exported to Europe. This added enough cost that our softwood exports to Europe now amount to less than $200,000 per year. Every dollar of lost exports to the European market means fewer jobs in the Canadian forest industry.
My hon. colleagues might believe that surely plant health constitutes reasonable grounds for making such a demand for kiln dried softwood, and I might agree with them but for a couple of facts. First, the Canadian forestry industry has done the scientific investigations to prove that it is virtually impossible for the Canadian pinewood nematode to multiply and create any hazard in Europe.
Second, and this is the catcher, European nations import softwood lumber green, which is to say not kiln dried, from parts of Europe that have been infested with the European pinewood nematode.
In my mind and according to representation from the B.C. softwood lumber producers, this constitutes a non-tariff trade barrier which has been in place for several years. However, rather than going to bat for the B.C. softwood lumber industry and pushing the complaint through the World Trade Organization, this government took absolutely no action until this summer.
Meanwhile, British Columbia's coastal lumber manufacturers, who have been the hardest hit in all of this by the recent economic downturn in Asia, are seeing layoffs that run as high as 50% of the forestry workforce in coastal communities. When one combines those forestry layoffs with the destruction of the west coast fishing industry, also due mainly to the politics of this government which has done such outrageous things as close fish hatcheries inland in British Columbia, including one in my riding, while the American state of Alaska in particular has strongly supported and expanded its hatcheries, we have an entire region, west coast, which today is experiencing a major recession.
I sometimes have to wonder where the thought process is when we start doing things like this. Does anybody here in Ottawa care that B.C. is in a recession? Does anybody here even know? Since parliament began sitting again this week where is the legislation this government has brought forward to assist British Columbia in its time of need? Have my hon. colleagues seen a piece of legislation that I missed? No.
I believe it is totally irresponsible for the government to allow the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates to prop up our sagging dollar while B.C. is already in a recession rather than bite the bullet, cut taxes and pay down our enormous federal debt. Instead, just like the APEC scandal, the Prime Minister washes his hands or again blames somebody else.
Is the government responsible for setting fiscal policy? Of course it is, just like it is responsible for setting defence policy, for setting trade policy to be enacted through such legislation as we have here before us today. Instead the Prime Minister shrugs the responsibility off on to the governor of the bank.
The crazy reality of international trade in Canada today is that we must have legislation setting out the rules and procedures for anti-dumping and countervailing duty action. We have to maintain federal departments which are supposed to determine when another country has a subsidy that does an injury to a Canadian company.
If politicians and bureaucrats here in Ottawa were to look out into the real world they might recognize that this entire exercise, including Bill C-35, is almost like a sick little joke. What is an unfair trade practice? Which is an injury to a Canadian business? When is a subsidy a subsidy and when is it not a subsidy? Is it a subsidy when American business can purchase gasoline for a trucking fleet at about half the cost of Canadian business? Is it a subsidy when an American business can pay its employees less but have the employees end up with significantly more take home pay for several reasons, including that Canadians pay the highest personal income tax in the entire G-7 and that the policies of the Liberal government, added to the policies of the Mulroney government, have seen the value of the Canadian dollar falling against virtually all other major currencies in the world for many years? Is that a subsidy?
Is it a subsidy when an American business does not have to hire an extra accountant or an extra secretary to complete the GST returns or to handle the extra mountain of paperwork which is required by the unbelievable red tape that federal and provincial governments impose on anybody brave enough or foolhardy enough to try to operate a business in Canada today?
Is it a subsidy when a mining company can know who is going to be its landlord for a given property in the U.S.A. but in British Columbia especially the federal government still has not successfully completed even one modern land claim? Is it a subsidy that investors in British Columbia do not know who their landlord may or may not be because Ottawa cannot get land claims settled? Is that a form of a subsidy?
Is it a subsidy when an American company can pay its employees in American dollars whereas Canadian companies pay our employees in Canadian dollars? I have to wonder about that.
I can well remember when the Canadian dollar was valued well above the U.S. dollar. Canada still has great natural resource riches. We still have an educated and willing workforce. The trouble is Canada now has suffered for many years under federal governments which believe they can spend us, using our own money, to riches rather than recognizing that we have a federal debt to GDP ratio that is second only to Italy among the G-7 nations.
Is it a subsidy when an American company pays its employees in American dollars? It is a serious question, because Canada's high tech industries in particular, whose trained personnel may account for a majority of their capital, are finding it nearly impossible to get and to keep the well trained employees which are their single greatest assets right here in Canada. Is it a subsidy? We train them, they get them.
Instead of facing that basic economic problem I have received letters from high tech companies in Canada which now want the federal government to increase grants and subsidies to help our companies pay for the costs of research and development. They are struggling to survive, and this government can only treat the symptoms of an illness that threatens their very lives.
The policies of this government and the Mulroney government before it have raised our taxes so high and dropped our dollar so low that I understand both the current Prime Minister and his predecessor have been named business people of the year by several American states. The two of them together have instituted and followed policies which are hammering the last few nails into the coffins of many Canadian companies.
Let us just look at my own personal field of mining. Canada is losing market share of worldwide mining investments. Is it unfair trade practices that account for that harm being done to Canadian mining companies?
For example, I have been alerted that the state of Alaska has asked the American government to request a hearing by the International Joint Commission, or IJC, of the Tulsequah chief mining project being advanced by the Canadian company Redfern Resources.
This is a project which has passed multimillion dollar environmental assessments by both the federal government and the Government of British Columbia. If Ottawa agrees to ignore our own provincial and federal hearings in which the state of Alaska—and I want to make it clear that the state of Alaska had every opportunity to raise any concerns it had during these hearings and never did. If Ottawa refuses to listen and goes ahead with putting a delay in place on this process too long for the investors to remain interested, will this constitute an unfair trade practice? You bet it will.
The state of Alaska does not have to subsidize its own mining companies in order to deal a death blow to a Canadian mining company. It just has to ask this federal government to jump and wait for Ottawa to answer “Just how high would you like us to jump?”
Would such a request ever come before the Canadian International Trade Tribunal being amended by Bill C-35? Not likely. Canadian mining companies today not only have to cope with the falling commodity prices but they have to cope with the high cost of doing business in Canada.
What will the Canadian International Trade Tribunal do about that problem? I suspect nothing.
This past spring I was fortunate enough and had the pleasure to travel with my wife through the state of Oregon. While down there, we met a number of business people, including mayors and councillors in different towns. They actually thought our Prime Minister was the best thing since sliced bread because we have driven so many investors to the state of Oregon and they have created so many jobs.
As an example, I was in a little town out of Lincoln, Oregon. I met with a couple of mayors from other communities. Six new businesses in six months have been started by Canadians right out of British Columbia. Six new businesses created 138 new jobs because they could not do it in their own country. I have to wonder what is going on here.
Members can see that we are driving many investors and many jobs out of Canada. I am in a difficult position here today because I am a strong supporter of free trade. But free trade has to be fair trade.
I look at the condition of the Canadian economy with our high taxes and our once proud Canadian dollar reduced to 66 cents U.S. I look around today and I see that not even one person blinks. We have come to accept it. We have come to accept that maybe it will get worse before it gets better.
I would have to be an extremely religious person with a firm belief in miracles to think that Canadian businesses today can compete fairly with their American counterparts.
Introducing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy laws are like putting on a little band-aid after cutting a major artery.
I want to state very clearly that I do not believe the proper long term solution to these problems is to institute protectionist measures, including some of the very things put forward in this legislation which is before us today.
Instead I would like to call upon this government to change its high spending, high taxing ways. It needs to institute profound changes to greatly shrink the size and cost of the federal government. It should not just pay lip service by keeping highly placed Ottawa mandarins while laying off front line employees who provide the real services to the public, and not just cough up costly buyout packages only to hire the same people back on a contract basis.
The only solution is to greatly reduce the number of things being done by the federal government. Slash the red tape and use the savings to pay down the debt and reduce taxes.
It has also been my pleasure recently to talk to a number of students in my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap. If members think some of the things I have said here today might be a little hard and a little harsh, I am serving warning to this House that when these young grade 11 and grade 12 students get out on the street and they have the time to vote, be worried of your jobs my friends because they do not think we have done a very good job at all.
These students know there are no jobs out there for them. We had just better be worried. And remember that I said this. The students are rejecting the image of cradle to grave coddling from government. Students want the government out of their faces. They want jobs. They want dependability. They want some form of security. And the government is not supplying it. We can bet on that. Students are sick and tired of being over-governed.
Back to the sad fact of this whole matter of anti-dumping and anti-subsidies international trade regulations. They cannot compensate for the grossly irresponsible behaviour of politicians whom the Canadian people elected and once trusted to put the best interests of the Canadian people first and foremost.
It is with some concern that we will support Bill C-35. I will go back to what I said at the very beginning. The government's first and foremost responsibility has to be to the Canadian public as a whole, to our law-abiding Canadian companies and to Canadian consumers.
One day hopefully the Government of Canada will wake up and find out for a change that we were sent to this place to govern for the people and not to the people. I await that day.