Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my intervention tonight by asking the government 10 questions on softwood lumber.
First, why has the Prime Minister and the Minister for International Trade allowed the softwood lumber trade crisis with the United States to drag on so long without taking serious steps to bring a resolution to this problem quickly?
Second, 345 people have lost their jobs in my riding. In British Columbia 1,600 people have lost their jobs. A total of 30,000 Canadians have lost their jobs due to the softwood lumber crisis. Does the Prime Minister not realize this is a local, regional and national issue which demands immediate action?
Third, the Prime Minister says he talks to President Bush every two or three weeks and perhaps speaks to him at occasional photo ops at international meetings. Does he not realize this is not working and he is not getting the job done?
Fourth, why does the Prime Minister refuse every solution offered by the coalition and opposition members, such as stakeholder meetings, appointment of a special envoy or immediate high level meetings on the softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States?
Fifth, the government acted quickly on a Brazilian ban on Canadian beef, on split-run magazines and on Bombardier aircraft conflicts, yet has still not solved the softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States after six months. Why does the Prime Minister not simply get on board his Challenger jet and get this issue solved with President Bush now?
Sixth, the Prime Minister has raised the spectre of linkage, of providing energy to the United States with the ongoing softwood lumber trade dispute, on two separate occasions and most recently in this place a few days ago. Why does the Prime Minister talk tough here and potentially threaten our energy industry, while accomplishing absolutely nothing on obtaining a settlement with the softwood lumber trade dispute?
Seventh, the Prime Minister and trade minister knew the softwood lumber deal would expire during the five year life of the deal, yet have demonstrated an inability to prepare any contingency plan to solve the problem the day after the deal expired at the end of March. Why was the Liberal government so woefully ill-prepared to anticipate this potential outcome on softwood lumber?
Eighth, the Minister for International Trade and Prime Minister have failed in their responsibility to save Canadian jobs in the softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States. Why should Canadians trust the government to solve any major problem adequately on any issue, given its disastrous handling of the softwood lumber trade dispute?
Ninth, given the fact that the softwood lumber dispute has affected so many jobs across the country, does the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance have a contingency plan for dealing with the devastating consequences of secondary industry loss and related business losses and the economic impact these losses will have on local economies and the entire national economy?
Tenth, the lumber industry is the number one industry in Canada, accounting for billions of dollars in exports and thousands of jobs for Canadians. How can the Prime Minister possibly defend the “don't worry, everything will be fine” approach to the softwood lumber crisis, while Canadian families move to the ranks of the unemployed and will now be unable to provide for the basic needs of their families?
Those are very important questions. I am waiting for some answers from the government on those important questions.
I would now like to turn my attention to the local impact that this trade crisis is having on people within my own community.
Last Friday two mills were closed down in the major city of Maple Ridge, the biggest town in my riding of Dewdney--Alouette. That has put 345 people out of jobs. This will have a devastating effect, not only for the families and individuals who were employed in those mills, but for the entire local economy.
These job losses occurred because of the economic need of International Forest Products to close these mills because of the devastating impact of the over 30% countervail duty on their products.
The Albion cedar mill and the Hammond cedar mill employed many people with high paying jobs. The Hammond cedar mill was Maple Ridge's largest private employer. It operated under the first countervail of 19.3% levied back in August, but the new 12.6% levy was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.
Its vice-president, Mr. Jack Draper, said “We cannot do business. It is impossible”. One of the employees, a Mr. Bill Westmacott, said:
For some it's going to be very difficult because their skill set is as a mill worker. This mill has worked throughout thick and thin. It's been tough through everything. Most guys have been lulled into the feeling that it would be here forever. People are still hopeful it won't be that long. But as far as I'm concerned, the federal government is sleeping at the wheel. It's typical. The west is suffering because of the indifference of Ottawa.
These local mills add $500,000 to the local tax base in municipal taxes, which has a spinoff effect in the local economy of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and surrounding areas.
The IWA local union president has also expressed his concern that the Americans are simply waiting to pick off our raw log exports and mill them in the United States. We hope that is not the case. Unless the government gets on its feet to solve the problem there will be a devastating impact not only on the union president, the jobs and the individuals he represents but on many other people in my riding.
If one travels along the Lougheed highway which runs parallel to the Fraser River, one sees many mills throughout the communities of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Albion, Whonock, Ruskin and many others. This very important issue must be dealt with and the government is simply not responding in an appropriate way to solve the problem immediately.
I want to read into the record some of the previous interventions I have made on behalf of my constituents on this issue. On at least four or five occasions I have asked questions on this issue in the House previous to this date.
I have written to the Minister for International Trade on behalf of my constituents. I am afraid that it has become a bit prophetic. I wish that had not been in the case. In my letter dated August 16 I wrote:
The recent ruling by the U.S. Commerce Department to impose a 19.3% countervailing duty on Canadian softwood exports will have a devastating effect on local companies operating in my riding of Dewdney--Alouette.
The forest industry accounts for hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in our local economy. It is predicted that the countervailing duty will cause almost immediate mill closures and layoffs in this sector. Needless to say, my constituents who may be out of work as a result of this countervailing duty need to see decisive action from the Government of Canada, and they need to see it now.
I have read media reports that indicate the Government of Canada is continuing to argue Canada's case, and intends to appeal the decision of the U.S. Commerce Department in the U.S. courts. While these are necessary actions, they could take months or even years before they are successful. In the meantime, thousands of jobs could be lost, and hundreds of mills shut down. This could cost Canadian producers billions of dollars.
The people in the forest industry need an immediate solution and they need to see their government fighting for their interests in an unprecedented way. It is my belief that the resolution of this trade dispute must become the Government of Canada's number one priority.
I look forward to receiving a response at your earliest convenience.
I am waiting for an answer. People in my riding certainly are waiting for an answer from the government on this very important issue so that they might have a solution to a problem that is affecting them to such a huge degree. I want to talk a bit about what is happening in the United States.
These countervailing duties do not just happen on softwood lumber. They also happen in other areas of commerce. However, these duties are now affecting our softwood lumber.
What happens is that the U.S. industry lobbies the U.S. commerce department to impose a duty on Canadian products. In the case of softwood lumber, the U.S. commerce department has complied with the request. Basically, it is what we might call back door protectionism.
Canada has a very important free trade agreement with the United States that allows it free access to American markets in this industry. However, with the Americans' approach to the U.S. commerce department's countervailing plan, it works at cross purposes. It not only hurts Canadian jobs and the Canadian industry, it also hurts American consumers who have to pay a higher price for their product, even if it is from Canadian producers who are able to withstand the burden of the high tariffs and still get their product to market in the United States while receiving this blow to the head duty on their product.
It would make sense to get this issue solved quickly for the survival of our forest industry which is so vitally important in British Columbia and across the country, as other members from other regions have said. It also has a huge impact in other areas.
The softwood lumber issue cuts to the heart of many. Some of us have been in this place for years now while the softwood lumber agreement was in place. We talked to the government about having a contingency plan for when the softwood lumber agreement expired. The response was inappropriate. It responded by saying that we would have free trade. We would have hoped for that but to not have a contingency plan in its hip pocket, when it had already been through similar trade disputes in the past where the Americans slapped on countervailing duties, was woefully inappropriate and showed a lack of foresight and a lack of vision on the government's part not to have anticipated this dispute.
Because the government did not anticipate this dispute and did not have a plan in its hip pocket to deal with this countervailing issue, thousands of people are losing their jobs. What are we to say to them? Do we tell them not to worry because we will take care of them? How can we ask people to trust the group that put the deal in place and allowed it to go on for five years without having a plan to combat a countervail at the end of that plan to solve the problem? It is a bit like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The football is there, Charlie Brown goes to kick it, Lucy pulls it out and Charlie keeps coming back to kick the ball every time.
In many ways the government is like Lucy holding the ball and asking Canadians to come and kick the ball. Eventually they are going to stop believing the ball will be there to kick because they have seen the way in which this government has handled this issue and many others, which simply demonstrates how woefully unprepared it is to do so. There is absolutely no excuse for that.
It is very frustrating when members of the House come to this place with solutions about how to anticipate these problems and they are rejected out of hand.
They are not only rejected out of hand but no alternative solutions are being proposed by the government. We even heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade refer to those who are concerned about this issue as nervous Nellies. He has apologized somewhat for that comment, and I commend him for that, but it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that the government is out of touch with the impact this trade dispute is having on real people, on their lives, on local economies and on our national economy at a time when we are already in a downturn due to the change in economic climate, as well as the events of September 11. By adding this trade dispute on top of everything else is a disastrous recipe and there is no concrete response coming from the government.
In the last few days my party and other parties have raised this issue in question period. At the most, we get 35 second non-answers or flippant responses. There was joking in the House today on the government members' side when this issue was brought forward rather than a concrete plan or set of concrete actions that could be put in place. We have asked the Prime Minister to initiate high level discussions, working with the president of the United States, to come to a resolution of this problem immediately. We are past the stage of simply waiting for an answer. There is too much at stake.
Speaking of local economies, some constituents from the travel agency business sector came to my riding office last week. They are facing the impact of the downturn in the economy, particularly the events of September 11. Their commissions have been cut because of their inability to sell tickets and they have had to lay people off. That is another sector of the economy that has been affected by the events of September 11 and the downturn in the economy. Close to 400 jobs have been lost.
I bet there will be very few people, after losing their jobs, who will be looking for a flight to visit a family member in some other part of the country or are able to afford to take a holiday with their families. It is affecting local business. It is affecting Ernie Day and his colleagues who run a travel agency in Maple Ridge. They have asked that the government be responsive to the issue, which is why I have mentioned it in this debate. The government does not have a response or a comprehensive set of ideas, solutions or suggestions on how to handle the impact of not only the events of September 11 but this particular issue of softwood lumber.
I wrote another letter to the Minister for International Trade on the issue of the shake and shingle industry which has also been lumped into the trade dispute when it should not be. I am awaiting a response from the minister on that issue too.
There is a proposal in the U.S. congress called the softwood lumber fair competition act that has been referred to the committee on ways and means. It is a way to include the shake and shingle producers in the same softwood lumber issue. It is having a potential effect on that sector of the lumber industry when it should not be. It is again another example of the Americans' protectionist stance when they claim to be free traders.
In closing I simply want to encourage the government one more time to take some concrete actions in this place today. I am urging the Prime Minister to go to Washington for some high level meetings with President Bush because this is the most important industry in terms of dollars that we have in Canada. If we do not show the people of our nation that we are willing to commit with our actions to the words we say we believe in, then our words are not worth much. We need to get this solved and we need to get it solved now.