Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak on behalf of my party to Bill S-31 and to speak on behalf of the people of Cariboo--Chilcotin as I participate in the debate.
The legislation is an act to implement agreements, conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Slovenia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Senegal, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Germany for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.
It is an act to ratify tax conventions agreed upon between Canada and the countries listed. The agreements were set out to avoid double taxation between the respective nations and to establish a co-operative framework to prevent fiscal evasion.
This is a technical tax bill that sets out to simplify arrangements and serves as a measure to further the economic interests of Canadian companies and individuals doing business and collecting revenues from abroad.
Tax conventions, such as the one to be implemented in Bill S-31, seek to arrange an agreement under which each government agrees to limit or modify the application of its domestic taxes in order to attempt to avoid double taxation.
The Canadian Alliance has traditionally encouraged all measures to further equalize and liberalize foreign trade and investment. In this regard, Bill S-31 is a positive measure. Nonetheless it was introduced in the Senate instead of the House of Commons. This is a problem for me. Why does it originate in the Senate? Why is it not that the Senate is brought into play as the chamber of sober second thought rather than introducing bills into the House? It is an unelected group that does not represent electors in the same way that members of this Chamber do.
The Canadian Alliance policy book says that we support securing access to international markets through the negotiation of trade agreements. Our trade agenda will focus on diversifying both the products we sell abroad and the market into which we sell those products. It goes on to say that we will vigorously pursue reduction of international trade barriers, tariffs and subsidies, that we will work with international organizations that have relevant expertise to ensure Canadians' concerns about labour practices, environmental protection and human rights are reflected.
Notwithstanding that the bill was introduced in the Senate, which is unelected and lacks the legitimacy to address legislation prior to the House of Commons, the Canadian Alliance will be supporting the bill.
It is interesting that we talk about a bill concerning trade with the countries I mentioned when at the same time we have a very serious and profound problem to solve in trade with our largest trading partner, the United States. The government needs to be reminded that even though it talks about conventions and treaties with other countries, the United States has added an anti-dumping tax of 12.6% to the 19.3% countervail duty announced in August. This is a political statement on behalf of the special interest U.S. lumber lobby.
For the next six weeks, Canadian exports of lumber will be subject to an added tax in the amount of 31.9%. After December 16, and until we hear a final countervail announcement expected in March, the 19.3% falls away and we are only dealing with the anti-dumping tax of 12.6%.
For the next several weeks, the United States lumber lobby will have a maximum leverage to wring concessions from the wounded Canadian industry. This is something that should and must be of profound importance to the Canadian government, as it is to the citizens of Canada.
It sounds like we need a tax treaty of some kind or a convention with the United States, does it not? It is expected that the final countervail duty determination in March 2002 will be much less than the preliminary determination in our case of 19.3%.
Anti-dumping duties are refundable when industry corrects deficiencies. Observers anticipate most companies will be fully refunded in the first year. Canada has a strong case for free trade access before NAFTA and the WTO trade tribunals and the U.S. lumber lobby knows this.
Even if we negotiate and reach an agreement more quickly than going through the trade tribunal process, the government must ensure that we stay the course toward free trade. We will hold it accountable for that.
Fifteen years of harassment have taken a major toll on our industry. If we do not go back to free trade now we will see further permanent job losses and disinvestments in the industry. There is too much at stake to otherwise.
The U.S. lumber lobby did not anticipate that Canada would hold out this long. It thought that we would negotiate rather than pursue the dispute resolution mechanisms to their fullest extent. That is what we have done in the past and we have won there.
What has changed is the strong alliance Canada enjoys with the U.S. consumer movement and its strong and effective lobby. We can negotiate a good treaty any time; the sooner the better.
The government should be doing that. The government in fact should have already done that. In the United States, consumers are speaking clearly to their politicians about the economic pain that they are experiencing. They want Canada's softwood lumber at the best price. They need it during these difficult economic times.
The administration of President Bush wants the long running Canadian lumber dispute resolved before Christmas. Let me say, so does everyone in British Columbia, particularly the lumber workers whose jobs depend upon this. President Bush appointed an envoy vested with power to negotiate a settlement. Our Prime Minister has the authority to appoint an envoy to negotiate for Canada. Such a person would understand the industry, be an honest broker and stand for what is right regardless of politics. Such a person would not let personal biases or political ambitions stand in the way of a balanced solution.
Does the Prime Minister have the political courage to appoint such an envoy and does the Minister for International Trade have the strength of character to accept such an appointment? I sincerely hope that they do.
There is much pessimism today but there should be optimism as well. If we can hold our alliance together among the lumber producers of Canada, it is the Canadian lumber producers who will be the winners.
Can anyone imagine the government forcing the House to debate a tax treaty between Canada and places like Peru, Senegal and the Czech Republic without having first dealt with the most important issue facing British Columbia and other parts of Canada, the softwood lumber crisis with the United States? Thirty thousand jobs are at stake in British Columbia. Over 30,000 forestry workers in British Columbia alone will be unemployed by the end of the year. B.C.'s mill towns are at risk of becoming ghost towns.
I am happy to speak to Bill S-31. I am happy that, in the case of the countries involved, we are reaching out to regularize and facilitate commerce and provide certainty in this foreign trade. I trust that regularization will take place with the United States concerning the softwood lumber industry. As I said before, the Canadian Alliance will be supporting the bill.