Mr. Chairman, I do not believe we have been able to discuss the softwood industry much in recent weeks. It is understandable that all hon. members were reeling from the shock of the events of September 11.
I believe it is worthwhile holding an emergency debate, as suggested by the Canadian Alliance, on the softwood lumber industry, since this week there have been three days of meetings held in Washington between American officials and Canadian federal and provincial officials.
What is also interesting to note is that the consensus that gradually developed this past winter and spring to demand for compliance to the free trade agreement immediately seems to have held up over the intervening weeks and months.
That consensus was not built up overnight. Discussions are still being held within the industry in Quebec and at the Canadian Manufacturers Association. The choice offered to us was either to follow the legal approach to the end, something that had never been attempted, or to enter into negotiations with the Americans, and in that context to repeat what happened in 1986 and 1996.
The wise choice that the Quebec industry made, as did the other industries and the governments across Canada apparently, was to use the legal approach all the way. There are very good reasons for this. First, in the United States—this has already been mentioned, but we do not insist enough on this in Canada and in Quebec—we have allies among American consumers and builders. We have a broad range of allies.
I had the opportunity, along with the hon. member for Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup--Témiscouata--Les Basques and the hon. member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis to travel to Washington as part of a non-partisan delegation of parliamentarians. I was surprised to see that the U.S. black people's chamber of commerce supports the Canadian position, as do a number of other consumers associations.
We do have allies, even among U.S. parliamentarians. The Minister for International Trade mentioned it. This summer, about 100 parliamentarians from both the Senate and the Congress wrote President Bush to ask him to maintain free trade in the lumber sector, because it was in the best interests of consumers in the various states that they represent.
It is also important to recall that we are now engaged in a negotiation process on a free trade area of the Americas. There is something contradictory in the Americans asking for protectionist measures in the lumber industry when all the nations of the Americas are talking about greater trade liberalization. In this regard, I think that President Bush does have—as the Canadian Alliance member pointed out—a responsibility.
We certainly realize that, following the September 11 events, this may not be at the top of his priorities. However, at some point in time, if he is the free trader he claims to be, he will have to take steps to put a stop to the procedures and harassment by the American lumber industry, particularly since we are now trying to further develop harmonious relations between all the countries. In my opinion, a prerequisite to such relations is to settle trade wars that have no real basis.
Another element, which strikes me as important and enters into the arguments relating to pursuing the legal battle, is the existence of the World Trade Organization. The rules it is in the process of developing—a process not yet complete—did not exist at the time of the last problems, which occurred around 1995-96. Now, with the WTO in place, and involved in this matter, U.S. legislation is now being challenged by the Canadian government, and rightly so, moreover.
From the political point of view, the situation is completely different from what it was in 1996. On the economic level—as the minister has said—the stumpage fees in Quebec have increased substantially in recent years. I also want to point out that a study commissioned by the government of Quebec on stumpage fees in private woodlots reached a very interesting conclusion.
As we know, Quebec has a price setting mechanism. I believe it is along the same lines as the one applied in the other provinces--Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in particular--which take into consideration the stumpage fees for private woodlots to set the ones for crown lands.
We are often told that since 90% of forests are under public administration in Quebec, the private sector could not be taken into account because it was too heavily influenced by the strong presence of public forest management.
What is interesting is that the study in question reaches the same conclusion, from which I shall read an excerpt, because it seems to me to offer additional proof that there is no subsidy involved in setting softwood lumber prices in Quebec:
Empirical data indicate that there is a single price for wood originating in Quebec, New Brunswick or northeastern U.S., once adjustments are made for the quality and for shipping costs.
What we see is that the price of wood in Quebec is the same as throughout eastern North America. The paradox is that the Atlantic provinces, including New Brunswick, were excluded from the American process, more so because their forests are managed privately rather than publicly. But we can see that price setting comes down to the same thing.
This study clearly shows that prices based on stumpage fees accurately reflect market prices. This is further proof that there are no subsidies.
We are right in economic terms. Our environment, in political terms, is favourable. And yet we face a whole series of legal proceedings and harassment from part of the industry in the United States.
The Minister for International Trade and the federal government will have to take steps to help the industry and those working in it. They will have to ensure the consensus remains, because, obviously, with the latest layoffs in British Columbia, among others, the pressure is tremendous, as we can understand.
The Minister for International Trade and the federal government will have to use their imagination in coming to the aid of the industry to help it get through these turbulent times and through the legal process and come out a winner.
I think the minister mentioned the possibility of the EDC's providing guarantee for the exporters, which corresponds to the interim countervailing duties of 19.3%.
Since the minister spoke of it around the end of August, I think it was August 24, we have heard nothing more. I think this avenue should be explored, and it seems to me it could help the industry get through the period better.
There is also the whole issue of employment insurance. I know that my colleague, the member for Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup--Témiscouata--Les Basques, will elaborate on that. We also have a situation, with the economic downturn, that would allow the federal government to implement measures, particularly with regard to employment insurance, that would help industry as a whole, including the lumber industry, which is suffering the consequences of countervailing duties, and it will only get worse.
Last, and this is very important, the federal government and the Minister for International Trade must play a leadership role. They have done that. I humbly submit that the Bloc Quebecois has supported the government in its initiatives and has even guided it in some instances to ensure that it was headed in the right direction. This must continue.
In this context, it seems important that, following the meetings between the provinces, there be a summit where the provinces, the industry and the federal government get together to assess the situation before the end of October.
I hope we will get through this dispute and that our interests, which are totally legitimate, will be defended in a context where we cannot let the might makes right principle prevail, because that would be contrary to all the work that has been accomplished by Canadians and Quebecers over the last 60 years.