Madam Speaker, this is about accountability and transparency. One suggestion proposed by the auditor general was that the design and implementation of a directive be established by the board at least once every five years. I know there will be measures in the legislation for these type of reviews, but once every five years is not good enough. These reviews should be more often than that, whether it is every year or two years.
We are dealing with billions of dollars of taxpayer money. There has to be accountability. The members board controlling the funds are politically appointed. I am not suggesting that they are not doing a good job in a lot of their work, but there has to be accountability.
I find it completely unacceptable that Export Development Canada, or Export Development Corporation as it is now known, is immune from the Access to Information Act. Nonetheless a study prepared for the federal government found that crown corporations, including the EDC, should be subject to access to information since access laws encourage organizations to be “demonstrably worthy of public trust”.
The study notes that the reasons for crown corporations, such as EDC, to be excluded from the laws are unclear and suggests that an agency should be subject to the law if the government appoints more than half of its governing body. As I pointed out earlier, the 50 member board is appointed by the Minister for International Trade and the Prime Minister.
We are looking for is greater accountability and transparency. What has the government done with its legislation? It is now giving powers to a politically appointed board to appoint further committees of its choice. The committees would not be appointed by parliament nor would they be accountable to parliament. The board would divest its responsibilities to further the committees, and I find that completely unacceptable.
Another amendment would require the EDC to determine whether projects would have adverse environmental affects. I acknowledge this is important, although I question whether this is the place for that. It has an environmental review process now, and we have to be committed to ensuring that we protect the environment for future generations.
The mandate of the EDC is to assist Canadian corporations with exports and access to other markets. In light of the recent events of September 11, with an economy that is beyond fragile and that is in serious decline, there has probably never been a more important time for EDC to ensure it fulfills its mandate where needed.
Canada's trade with the United States is $1.4 billion U.S. a day. I have been told that exports between Canada and the United States are off some $200 million to $300 million a day since September 11. We are talking 10% to 15% out of our economies, which is a huge amount. Again, if there has ever been a time for EDC to fulfill its mandate, it is now. I see nothing in the legislation that strengthens this area.
In May this year the report of the auditor general gave failing grades to 24 of 26 projects backed by the Export Development Corporation. To add insult to injury, the EDC decided it would not make public details of three of the projects judged to have been improperly assessed under the corporation's environmental review process.
The new environmental changes, and I understand they are voluntary, are very questionable.
However, it is even more telling when it comes to accountability and transparency. The EDC unilaterally decided not to release the details of three of these projects for “good, legitimate reasons”. That was what we are told without know what the reasons were. We will never know any of the details of these three projects.
Again, EDC has argued that these are business transactions and businesses have to be protected for patent reasons or whatever the case may be.
I would argue that these businesses are approaching a crown corporation, in essence the taxpayer, for financial assistance for these projects. That being the case, that changes the circumstances completely. If they need taxpayer dollars and assistance, then they have to be accountable and more transparent. They should be open to access to information requests. If they have business practices or information that could hurt future business opportunities and they does not want to divulge whatever that information may be, maybe they should rethink asking for taxpayer money.
The crown corporation is supposedly striving to rid itself of this secretive image. Yet it is well known for its lack of transparency and willingness to fund projects of which other agencies stay clear.
I want to come back to the Canada account. So people understand, there are two accounts with Export Development Corporation, or Export Development Canada as it will now known. There is the corporate account to which businesses apply under the general rules. They have to have proper credit ratings to meet those practices.
Then there is the Canada account, also known as the political account. This is for companies that would not qualify under the corporate account. If they do not have the right credit risk, the right business plans or whatever it may be to access funds from the corporate account, they go to the Canada account. The Canada account is basically a cabinet account where the Government of Canada interferes and advises the EDC that it would like something approved.
There have been some examples. Again, the most obvious one, and the public is aware of it because it has been in the press, is the recent Bombardier transactions to the tune of $3.7 billion in loan guarantees. In fairness to the government, they were not actual subsidies but loan guarantees.
Admittedly, Bombardier was facing unfair business practices. It was at risk of losing to Embraer, which was engaging in unfair trade practices. It was important to Canada and our economy that we maintain these jobs in Canada and that Bombardier continue to be a world leader in the manufacture of regional aircraft. As a result of September 11, there is even a greater market for smaller regional aircraft.
The point I am making is that there are many other industries that face unfair trade practices. Probably right now no other industry has more problems than the softwood lumber industry. It is facing unfair trade practices, not unlike Bombardier did with Embraer. Trade tariffs of 19.3% are being imposed on the industry by the U.S. administration. The case has been to various international trade tribunals on three separate occasions. Canada has won every single time. However, through U.S. domestic legislative, these tariffs have been imposed on the softwood industry in Canada.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that 45% of that industry is in British Columbia or over $10 billion a year. When we add that kind of tariff, we are talking over $1 billion a year out of the British Columbia economy alone.
Tomorrow we will be hit with the anti-dumping tariff. Canada has one industry that is getting loan guarantees under the EDC Canada account and I understand why. However tens of thousands of jobs, and the number is probably in the area of 40,000 to 50,000, in the softwood lumber industry right across Canada have been lost. Those people are getting absolutely no assistance from the government.
The government granted the $2.1 billion loan guarantee under the Canada account for the Air Wisconsin deal. In January I asked the minister if this was a new policy of the government. When an industry in Canada is faced with unfair trade practices, I asked him if the government would start providing subsidies or loan guarantees or match the unfair trade practices. Using the words of the government, I was told that all it was going to do was match the unfair trade practices of Brazil. That begs the question, does that become the policy of the government? I do not think that is the best policy.
Right now the forest industry in Canada is facing horrific job losses. We are told that tomorrow it is going to be faced with an anti-dumping suit anywhere from 5% to 15% on top of the 19.3%. The forest industry is facing somewhere between a 25% and 35% tariff. This issue has been through international trade tribunals and Canada has won every time. We have heard the minister say time and time again that officials are meeting with our American friends to the south on the issue. The reality is that this process could take two or three years and there will be no forest industry left in British Columbia or elsewhere in Canada for that matter. The industry will be struggling to stay alive.
I stress that the Canada account is very political. In summary we will not be supporting this legislation primarily because it does absolutely nothing to deal with the issue of accountability and transparency. This crown corporation spends billions of taxpayers' dollars. It has a budget in the billions of dollars and has control over where the money goes. It is immune from access to information. That needs to change. The government thought it more important to change the name rather than bring about accountability and transparency. We believe that is wrong and we will be voting against it.